While effective in treating sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are not the easiest to adapt to, which is why around 50% of those with sleep apnea give up on the life-saving devices. But there’s some good news for those who stick with it, with health benefits stretching further than treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and its associated elevated risks of heart disease and stroke. Recent research has also linked OSA with a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists in Iceland have released the results of a two-year human study on 822 patients with moderate to severe OSA, and the results are encouraging for those who manage to stick with their CPAP treatment.
What they found was that while the CPAP machines treated their primary condition, they also reduced night-time acid reflux by 42% compared to those who used the devices sometimes, or never. The apparatus also relieved other respiratory issues such as chronic coughing and wheezing, with patients experiencing a four-fold decrease in productive morning coughing and almost a four-fold decrease in chronic bronchitis.
“When we experience heartburn or acid reflux, we are feeling stomach acid traveling up toward the throat,” said lead author Thorarinn Gislason, a professor in the department of sleep at Landspitali – The National University Hospital of Iceland. “People with obstructive sleep apnea are three times more likely to suffer regularly with night-time heartburn. Respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing, are also more common.”
While not the first study to highlight the link between sleep apnea and reflux, the new research reinforces those findings. Because the machines keeps the upper airway open during sleep, the researchers believe that this helps keep the valve between the stomach and the food pipe closed, potentially blocking acid from traveling up the esophagus.
“Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition and, although we have good ways to diagnose and treat it, many people do not realize they have this problem,” said Gislason.
Those who have been diagnosed and offered CPAP treatment should try to use the machine regularly as we are learning more and more about the health benefits that CPAP can bring.”
OSA affects an estimated 30 million Americans, comparable to diabetes. By highlighting the many benefits of CPAP machines, scientists hope it can help boost compliance and uptake in using the lifesaving device.
The study was published in ERJ Open Research.