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What's a BiPAP Machine and How Is It Different From CPAP?

A BiPAP machine is a special type of breathing device that so far has helped thousands of people breathe more freely, especially during the night.

Most people with sleep apnea or other breathing problems probably know all about CPAP, which is a continuous positive airway pressure machine that is designed to pump in a continuous stream of air into a mask to allow the person's airway to remain open so that they may breathe freely. 

CPAP is most commonly used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which obstructions cause breathing to stop for short periods of time during sleep.

Yet most people have never heard of CPAP's brother, which is primarily used to treat central sleep apnea, as well as other breathing problems. BiPAP is also used in some situations when a person suffering from obstructive sleep apnea has other health issues that make it difficult to use CPAP. More on that in a bit.

History of the BiPAP Machine

The BiPAP machine was designed off of the CPAP model in the late 1980's, but with one major difference. The acronym stands for bi-level positive airway pressure, which means that it delivers its air not in one continuous stream, but actually at two variable levels. 

While most people refer to this machine as BiPAP, it's name is actually BPAP, as the other acronym actually refers to a specific brand of bi-level positive airways pressure machines designed and manufactured by the Respironics corporation.

The reason this machine was designed lies in one flaw of CPAP that makes it unacceptable for people with certain breathing, neurological, or muscular problems. The main problem with the CPAP machine is that the air comes in at a continuous level

While this may be great for keeping the airway open while breathing in, it also means that the person has to exert much more force to breathe out, due to the air coming in through the mask.


Some people who need the use of a positive airway pressure machine to help them breathe find it either difficult or even impossible to breathe out when using the CPAP machine due to the force of the air. This can be due to many different health problems that make it impossible to use CPAP.


bipap machineThe BiPAP machine is used in these cases where a person has difficulties breathing, and also used to treat central sleep apnea. 

The cause of central sleep apnea is usually some form of neurological or central nervous system disorder that makes a person lose the ability to breathe for short periods of time.

Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, there are no blockages of the airway, instead the brain simply loses the ability or forgets to breathe until the person wakes up and begins manually breathing. The machine helps to combat central sleep apnea by taking care of both breathing in and out whenever needed.

What Types of People Use BiPAP?

In addition to those suffering from central sleep apnea, there are also a number of people with obstructive sleep apnea that need to use this machine instead of CPAP. This is typically in the case where a person has some form of neuromuscular condition that causes them to be unable to properly breathe out using CPAP.

bipap machineStill, there are actually quite a few other conditions unrelated to any form of sleep apnea that this machine can be used to treat. Many different neuromuscular conditions that cause difficulties breathing, especially when lying down, necessitate the use of this machine, even when the person is not suffering from sleep apnea. 

Typically it only takes mild conditions accompanied by sleep apnea to make this machine necessary, while without sleep apnea, it is only necessary in more severe cases.

Other groups of people who regularly use this type of positive airway pressure machine include those suffering from chronic breathing problems, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lung disease), emphysema, atelactasis (a condition where the air sacs in the bottom portion of the lung cannot inflate that results after the lung partially or totally collapses), and even heart disease.

This machine is especially useful for those breathing disorders and other problems that lead to a build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood due to shallow or rapid breathing. The reason it is especially helpful in these situations is that the variable pressure allows them to better fully inhale and most importantly exhale. 

If these patients were to use CPAP, they would not be able to properly exhale all of the carbon dioxide from their lungs and it would continue to build up.

It is also used in hospital situations where a person would otherwise need to be intubated (have a breathing tube inserted down their throat), but cannot be due to other medical or physical problems.

So Do You Need BiPAP?

Only your doctor will be able to determine if you are suffering from a condition that makes the use of this type of breathing machine necessary. The first test your doctor will normally perform will be a simple series of respiratory tests to determine your lung capacity and how much force you need to exert to exhale. 

bipap machineIf sleep apnea might be a possibility, you will also need to undergo a sleep test to try and determine if you are indeed suffering from sleep apnea, and if so, whether it is obstructive or central.

If your doctor determines you do require the use of this machine, they will put you in contact with a medical supply company that can help you get all of the gear you'll need. 

Pay close attention to the mask you choose, as this will go a long way in determining how comfortable and easy to use the machine is. 

Plus, a good fitting mask will also stay in place throughout the night, ensuring you get the breathing help you need. While using this machine is by no means easy or comfortable, with any luck, you will soon get used to it and decide it's well worth it to allow you to breathe freely during the night.

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