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Sleep apnea, estimated to affect 18 million Americans, causes sufferers to stop breathing multiple times an hour overnight, disrupting sleep and contributing to other health conditions.
A new device implanted under the skin could soon be an alternative to a bulky mask for the millions of Americans with sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that occurs when the muscles in the neck can’t keep the airway open, causing breathing to stop multiple times per hour throughout the night. The disruption in sleep leaves sufferers tired and groggy, and is also linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and memory problems.
One common way of addressing it is to wear a mask at night that blows air into the throat to keep the airway open – what’s known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). But many people find the mask hard to tolerate, according to researchers in a new study published online Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The New England Journal of Medicine
The Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation device, implanted under the skin, stimulates nerves to help keeo the airway open. It is turned on before bedtime and turned off during the day.
The research team reported positive results for a new alternative device that keeps the airway open via electrical pulses delivered to the hypoglossal nerve under the tongue. The surgically implanted device is switched on prior to bedtime to help keep the person breathing throughout the night.
The international study tested 126 participants, 83% of whom were men. Subjects saw their number of apnea events per hour decrease by an average of 68% over the one-year study. They also reported improved quality of life.
A second phase of the study focused on a smaller group of 46 patients who either continued on the stimulators or stopped using them for a week. Those who stopped using it saw their breathing pauses per hour triple on average, which further demonstrates the benefits of the device, study authors wrote. Less than 2% of study participants saw serious adverse effects from the surgical procedure and treatment.
Study author Dr. Ryan Soose of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center discusses upper airway stimulation treatment for sleep apnea patients.The new device, if approved, would serve as another option for people who can’t tolerate CPAP masks.
The device, manufactured by Inspire, is still in the preliminary stages of being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It wouldn’t supplant the use of CPAP entirely, but would provide patients with another option for treatment, study authors said.
Sleep apnea affects about 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Risk factors include being overweight or obese, having a small upper airway, or having a large tongue or tonsils. Men are more likely to contract it than women.