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Posted: Monday, January 26, 2015

A new hope for severe COPD patients

You may not realize it, but chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cancer and heart disease. This group of lung diseases affects more than 24 million Americans and particularly is common in the southeastern portion of the country. While there are a variety of causes, there also are many different types of treatment for COPD, one of which is designed to help patients with a common health problem – sleep apnea.

Typically, sleep apnea patients find themselves using a CPAP system to help them breathe at night. But, Dr. Jaber Hassan with the Blount Memorial Sleep Health Center says a similar device is making advances with patients whose respiratory failure is a result of COPD. “People with severe COPD still can live long, decent lives, providing that their health care is maximized,” Hassan said. “Still, they’re prone to life-threatening flare-ups that often can require hospitalization and mechanical ventilation to help them recover. Recently, though, advances in non-invasive ventilatory support using BPAP or BiPAP systems have shown a significant decrease in a patient’s chances of needing to be placed on an invasive lifesaving ventilator. BPAP or BiPAP systems use a mask to deliver air pressure, rather than requiring a tube to be placed in the trachea. It’s very similar to a CPAP system, and has saved many lives, shortened hospital stays, reduced the costs incurred with using a ventilator, and has helped prevent the overall deterioration of quality of life,” he explained.

“The idea makes perfect sense,” Hassan said. “BPAP systems help rest the breathing muscles of patients at night. These muscles usually are overworked to the point of exhaustion, causing shortness of breath and the retention of carbon dioxide in the lungs. With the right patient, use of a BPAP machine at night can improve carbon dioxide and oxygen levels during the day on a chronic basis. Much of the evidence for the BPAP’s effectiveness was speculative until a study released this fall in The Lancet journal found that patients with severe COPD and high carbon dioxide levels had a remarkable drop in mortality rates and an improved overall quality of life,” he explained. “These results are going to have a very positive impact on COPD treatments. This positive therapeutic effect is expected to be more pronounced in patients with both COPD and sleep apnea,” he added.


Hassan says he expects COPD will continue to be a disease on the rise. “Baby boomers that have developed severe COPD are becoming a major challenge due to frequent hospitalizations, the increasing costs of medicine and the drop in quality of life they experience,” Hassan said. “However, with careful monitoring, maximization of care, vaccination, screening for sleep apnea and consideration of home BPAP systems when appropriate, we potentially can make remarkable reductions in the effects of COPD,” he said.

The Blount Memorial Sleep Health Center features board-certified sleep specialists, as well as the comprehensive support services of Blount Memorial Hospital. The Sleep Health Center is an accredited member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), and also offers a free CPAP education clinic. For more information or to schedule an initial appointment, call the Sleep Health Center at 865-980-5120.

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