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What Does CPAP Stand for and Other PAP Acronyms?

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If you’ve been diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea or one of the other forms of Sleep Apnea, chances are your doctor or sleep specialist has recommended you to use a PAP, or positive airway pressure, device for nightly use. Each of the devices listed below can improve your ability to enjoy restful sleep night after night, absent the potentially negative health and quality of sleep consequences of your particular form of Sleep Apnea.

What Does CPAP Stand For?

CPAP is the abbreviation for “continuous positive airway pressure.” A CPAP machine sends pressurized air into your airways helping to keep the airways open while you sleep. You wear a mask that connects to the device itself, via a hose, through which the air is delivered.
In terms of a CPAP definition, people who use the treatment find that it helps them enjoy improved sleep quality, get more sleep, and improve overall health because they are getting better quality sleep from their CPAP machines.

How does the CPAP work?

The use of a CPAP may be prescribed to treat mild, moderate, or severe Sleep Apnea. It must be prescribed by a board-certified sleep specialist or doctor, and requires a sleep study to determine, first, if you have Sleep Apnea, and second, the type of Sleep Apnea you have. Only then can sleep specialists or doctors make informed decisions about the specific PAP treatment that is likely to meet your needs best.

As mentioned above, the device consists of three distinctive parts:

  1. The CPAP machine. This is the key component for selecting the appropriate air pressure to help you breathe while sleeping and it sends a steady stream of pressurized air through the house while you sleep. Some machines are equipped with heated humidifiers that help to keep the air that comes through your mask moist and warm for a more comfortable experience.
  2. The hose. This connects the mask to the machine and provides a pathway for air to travel from one point to the next.
  3. The mask. There are many different masks you may choose for your CPAP mask. These fit over your nose and mouth while you sleep so the pressurized air can do the job it is intended to do.

One thing that is important to remember is that you must be compliant using the CPAP device to continue receiving the positive results it provides.

If you’re not getting the results you hoped for, discuss it with your sleep technologist. It could be an indication that either there is a problem with the pressure, the equipment, or the mask, or that another form of PAP therapy may be a better solution for you. These are all things you can make adjustments to ensure you’re getting optimal benefits from your CPAP therapy.

What Does BiPAP Stand For?

While the CPAP delivers continuous positive airway pressure, the BiPAP machine offers bilevel positive airway pressure. The same steady pressure is delivered via CPAP whether you’re breathing in or out. That is not the case with the BiPAP machine.

While the BiPAP operates and functions very much like the CPAP device it also differs greatly in that it offers dual pressure settings. The typical adjustment provides a higher pressure setting for inhaling and lower pressure setting for use when you exhale. Once again, there is no specific BiPAP definition, the term is simply an abbreviation for a much longer name.

CPAP devices are more commonly prescribed than BiPAP (also referred to as BPAP) machines, but there are some people who benefit more from the added air pressure provided while breathing in with the BiPAP device.

These are some examples where sleep specialists may recommend BiPAP devices instead of CPAP machines:

You have breathing restrictions. Some people struggle with breathing in an adequate supply of oxygen while eliminating an appropriate amount of carbon dioxide. BiPAP machines can help get a higher supply of oxygen while sleeping while allowing the easier exhalation of carbon dioxide.

You find the continuous pressure from the CPAP uncomfortable. Some sleep specialist will recommend changing the air pressure for patients who find it difficult to exhale against the continuous pressure of their CPAP machines. This helps to improve compliance while keeping the airways open while patients breathe in.

You require higher air pressure to keep your airways open while sleeping. The nature of some Sleep Apnea patients is that you’ll need a higher than normal amount of pressure to keep the airways suitably unobstructed while you sleep. If this is the case a lower air pressure to exhale against is more suitable.

Your sleep technologist will work with your sleep specialist to determine if you need a BiPAP machine and which settings are likely to offer you the most positive experience.

What Does APAP Stand For?

To understand the APAP definition, it’s helpful to know what the APAP acronym stands for and how the therapy helps you. APAP stands for “automatic positive airway pressure.” While the CPAP devices offer continuous or steady air pressure while you sleep, and the BiPAP device offers continuous air pressure at two levels, according to prescribed settings (or intervals), the APAP automates the process of adjusting air pressure according to your minute-by-minute needs.

The APAP came about to address compliance issues related to different complaints among CPAP users. Many of which could be addressed by reducing the amount of air pressure delivered while patients sleep. Not everyone requires the range of pressure the APAP delivers.

However, if one or more of the following applies to you, it may be a better choice:

Your apnea occurrences are higher during REM sleep. Airway obstructions often increase during REM sleep due to partial paralysis of throat muscles. Automated adjustments compensate for this during REM sleep then return to normal during other stages of sleep.

You change positions while sleeping. If you adjust between multiple sleep positions during the average night, it can lead to requirements for air pressure to prevent obstructions. APAP machines are the perfect solutions.

You were diagnosed with Sleep Apnea via a home sleep test. Because home sleep tests aren’t as thorough as overnight sleep studies, it might be advised that you begin with APAP devices that auto adjusts to meet your air pressure needs.

Regardless of the type of PAP device your sleep specialist or doctor recommends, it’s important to make sure it’s the right fit for you and that you continue to use your PAP to get the full benefit it has to offer.

  • David Repasky

    David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it's like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient's perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.

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