New help for sleep apnea patients


Every night for five years, Kathy Gaberson donned a facemask connected to hoses and compressed air.  This continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP, was the best treatment available for Gaberson's sleep apnea, which had been steadily wrecking her health.

"I was driving my car locally and stopped at a stop sign and fell asleep at the stop sign," said Gaberson.

Dr. Ryan Soose is studying a new implantable device, the Inspire upper airway stimulation therapy.

"The device itself is a pacemaker-like device that is placed just under the skin of the right upper chest," explained Soose, Director at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Division of Sleep Surgery.

The Inspire is connected to an electrode that stimulates the nerve of the tongue, preventing the narrowing of the throat.

"The patient has a remote control to turn it on and off when they want to use it," Soose said.

Gaberson felt a slight tingling in her throat when the device turned on, but said the feeling didn't keep her from getting great sleep for the first time in years.

"I woke up in the morning refreshed," Gaberson explained.

A study from the New England Journal of Medicine reports that two-thirds of the patients using the upper airway stimulation device had control of their sleep apnea, meaning less daytime sleepiness, improvements in snoring, and better quality of life.

The batteries can last about five to ten years, and there is a simple procedure to replace them when they do run out.

Additional Information:

Over 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing, during sleep. Each pause in breathing, called an apnea, can last from a few seconds to a few minutes, and may occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. When this happens it means that the brain and the rest of the body may not get enough oxygen. Sleep apnea is diagnosed with an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram, or "sleep study." If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, heart attacks, diabetes, and depression. (Source: http://www.webmd.com)

CAUSES:  Sleep apnea can be caused by excess weight, neck circumference, and some other causes include:

  • A narrowed airway
  • Being male
  • Being older
  • Family history
  • And race in people under 35 years old, blacks are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea.

Standard treatments can include weight loss, upper airway surgeries, oral appliances, and continuous airway pressure (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: The Inspire upper airway stimulation therapy is kind of like a pacemaker. It's placed under the skin in the right upper chest. There's a sensor that monitors the patients breathing. It's connected to an electrode that stimulates the nerve in the tongue which prevents the narrowing of the throat. It delivers stimulation to the hypoglossal nerve timed to each breathing cycle. Some patients may feel a slight tingling in the throat. The device is permanent. After one year, patients had a 70 percent reduction in sleep apnea and significant reductions in daytime sleepiness. (Source: University of Pittsburgh)