COPD and Difficulty Breathing

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term used for lung disorders such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and in some cases chronic asthma. People with COPD may have difficulty breathing, chronic cough, fatigue, and chest tightening. COPD can also result in reduced blood oxygen levels, causing fatigue and leading to adverse health conditions. Sleep problems and sleepiness are common in COPD patients, partly due to symptoms but also because of the medications used to treat COPD. In addition, changes in breathing patterns that occur during normal sleep that do not affect healthy people may lead to more severe consequences in people with COPD, which may worsen and complicate COPD since they reduce blood oxygen. Even COPD patients without obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may experience a drop in oxygen during sleep.

COPD develops slowly and is rare in people under the age of 40. It is progressive, meaning that it does not go away and may worsen over time, depending on when treatment is initiated. According to COPD International , 12 million Americans currently have COPD and an estimated 12 million more are undiagnosed. Smoking is the main cause of COPD but it is also linked with exposure to second hand smoke and/or other environmental pollutants. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

For people with COPD, symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, and frequent nighttime urination may profoundly impact sleep. In addition, medications used to treat COPD may cause insomnia or daytime sleepiness. Simply having to wake up and take prescriptions on schedule may also disturb sleep.

Overlap syndrome is a term used for patients with both COPD and OSA. Overlap syndrome, which research suggests occurs in 10-15% of COPD patients, is associated with a reduction of blood oxygen levels during sleep, which may cause extreme fatigue and other health problems. If you have COPD and suspect that you may also suffer from OSA, talk to your physician about treatment options, including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Research suggests that treatment of overlap