A diagnosis of sleep apnea often occurs when a patient undergoes a sleep study to determine overall sleep patterns. Often, a series of symptoms that seem to point to another condition prove to be caused by sleep apnea. Sleep apnea actually causes sufferers to stop breathing for periods of time during sleep, and the condition is often discovered by a spouse or partner who witnesses the events during the night. Once the apnea is diagnosed, the patient and doctor can decide how to treat the condition.

A CPAP and a BiPAP each include a machine that produces a flow of air as well as a mask worn over the patient's face during the night. A lightweight elastic band holds the mask in place. With obstructive sleep apnea, the airways tend to close during breathing, making the CPAP more suitable, because it produces a continuous flow of air to counteract the obstruction. Central sleep apnea, in which the breathing problems can be traced to the central respiratory system, is often more comfortably and more effectively treated with a BiPAP.


Another way of choosing between a CPAP and a BiPAP is comfort. If a patient has tried a CPAPand finds the continuous pressure to be uncomfortable, a BiPAP might be a better choice. Some patients find that the constant air pressure makes exhalation difficult or uncomfortable. The lessening in air flow during exhalation in a BiPAP machine can eliminate this discomfort.