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What to know about sleep apnea, the condition Biden uses a CPAP machine for

The White House confirmed Wednesday that President Biden has been using a CPAP machine, a device commonly used to address sleep apnea, to improve his sleeping in recent weeks.

Biden, 80, disclosed in 2008 medical reports that he has a history of sleep apnea — making him one of roughly 30 million Americans who have the condition.

“He used a CPAP machine last night, which is common for people with that history,” a White House official told CBS News.

Here’s what to know about the sleeping disorder.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing may inadvertently stop and start during sleep, according to the American Medical Association.

Risk factors include age and obesity, and it is more common in men than in women. Lifestyle factors may also increase your risk for sleep apnea, including drinking alcohol, smoking and opioid use.

There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type, according to the National Institutes of Health, and happens when your upper airway becomes blocked many times while you sleep – whereas central sleep apnea involves your brain not sending the right signals to breathe.

“(Obstructive sleep apnea) is actually one of the most prevalent conditions in human beings,” says Dr. Carlos M. Nunez, chief medical officer of sleep health device company ResMed and previously a practicing anesthesiologist and intensivist. “There are about a billion people that have sleep apnea in the world, and unfortunately, more than 80% are undiagnosed and untreated.”

In addition to it disrupting your sleep, the condition has also been linked to other health impacts.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is not only bad in and of itself, but these constant physiologic insults to your body predispose you for risk of other diseases later in life,” Nunez says. “You have greater risk of certain cardiovascular diseases. We’ve got research to show that poor sleep exacerbated by things like sleep apnea, increase your risk for things like dementia like Alzheimer’s disease.”

Symptoms of sleep apnea

If you’re experiencing daytime sleepiness, waking up during the night, dry mouth or headaches, these could be signs of sleep apnea, according to the NIH.

Your partner may also alert you to some of the symptoms, including breathing that starts and stops during sleep, frequent loud snoring and gasping for air during sleep.

Nunez says snoring is one of the most common signs, but it’s a specific type to look out for.

“It’s not just run-of-the-mill snoring,” he says. “People can snore and do not have sleep apnea. But it’s the type of snoring that is either extremely loud or almost sounds like someone who’s choking or gagging.”

What is “sleep banking”? And can it help you feel more rested?

Sleep apnea treatment

Breathing devices such as CPAP machines —CPAP stands for continuous positive air pressure — are commonly recommended to help with sleep apnea. A CPAP machine pushes a steady stream of air into a user’s nose and mouth, keeping airways open during sleep.

Nunez says people have the misconception that CPAP machines are the same large, loud machines that existed years ago.

“That is not what CPAP is in this modern day and age. Yes, there are different types of masks but the devices are extremely quiet, extremely comfortable,” he says, adding that some devices can even track your sleep data for yourself and your doctor. “You take a traditional therapy, you turn it into a connected device and give patients and doctors access to the data and all of a sudden you get better adherence, better outcomes.”

Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting alcohol or smoking, may also be recommended.

If these measures do not work, surgery may be an option to correct the problem that is causing a person’s sleep apnea.

To help determine if you are suffering from sleep apnea, doctors may advise a sleep study in order to make a diagnosis.

Gabrielle Ake and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

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