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The CPAP machine, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, has saved millions of human lives since it was first invented to treat race horses for exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhages (true story). CPAPs are most commonly prescribed to treat sleep apnea, although they can be used to help premature infants’ lungs develop as well. For people living with sleep apnea and other sleep breathing disorders, the CPAP machine can be life-changing – that is, when used correctly and consistently. A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has found just how widespread the problem of CPAP non-adherence is and how it affects patients’ likelihood of being readmitted to the hospital. Is better education the key to ensuring patients stick with their CPAP machines?

The study found that many patients who are admitted to the hospital for health problems stemming from sleep breathing disorders often fail to adhere to the use of CPAP machines within their first thirty days of being prescribed the machine. These patients were found to be three times more likely to be readmitted to the hospital than patients who adhered to nightly CPAP use. The most common issues leading to readmission were atrial fibrillation, myocardial ischemia and congestive heart failure – all common symptoms of sleep apnea.

Dr. Behrouz Jafari, director of the sleep program at the Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System and one of the researchers in this study, says that discovering this link could help improve patient outcomes and reduce the burdens on strained healthcare systems:

This study carries important implications as it suggests that CPAP therapy may be an important, modifiable target for reducing hospital readmissions. Until now no one has investigated the role of CPAP non-adherence in 30-day readmissions as an independent risk factor in all types of admissions. Improving CPAP adherence may have a cost-saving effect at local, state-based, and national levels.

CPAP machines are often stigmatized or avoided because they can be loud and users must wear masks while they sleep, and many partners of individuals with sleep can find it difficult to sleep with a loud air pump next to them. Still, the alternatives are much worse.

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