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Sleep Apnea: the Chronic and Potentially Deadly Sleeping Condition

Sleep apnea is a common disorder, with an estimated 18 million Americans affected by the condition.  “Apnea” is Greek for “without breath” and this accurately characterizes the disorder, whereby affected individuals spontaneously pause their breathing during sleep.  Pauses in breathing can last for a few seconds to minutes, and may occur 30 or more times per hour.  Normal breathing typically starts again, with a choking or snoring sound initiating the start of breathing.  At the lower end of the spectrum, sleep apnea is disruptive to sleep, leaving affected individuals with excessive daytime sleepiness.  However, on the more serious end of the spectrum, sleep apnea can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and obesity.

FDA Approves One of a Kind Sleep Apnea Implant

Until now, the only methods for treating sleep apnea included weight loss, nasal decongestants, sleeping position therapy, surgery, a breathing mask, or oral appliances such as a mouth guard.  However, the FDA recently approved a new implantable device that may provide hope for those afflicted by sleep apnea.  The new device, from Inspire Medical Systems, resembles a pacemaker and helps to treat one of the primary causes of sleep apnea.  One of the main causes of sleep apnea is that the tongue and throat muscles relax too much during sleep, obstructing the airway and preventing breathing.  Inspire’s device treats the problem by stimulating a key nerve that will keep the tongue and throat muscles from relaxing too much.

New Device Much Cheaper, Less Invasive Than Surgical Therapy

The new device is a welcome solution to sleep apnea, considering that surgical treatment is invasive and involves a long recovery time.  Surgical treatment of sleep apnea typically involves removing part of the roof of the mouth or widening the airways.  Other treatments for sleep apnea include CPAP, a special mask that sleep apnea users wear at night that gently blows air through the nose.  However, studies show that about half of sleep apnea patients do not use their CPAP regularly because it is uncomfortable, it leaks, or they feel claustrophobic with it on their face and rip it off in their sleep.  The new device consists of a small generator that is implanted in the chest much like a pacemaker.  The generator is connected to an electrical stimulation lead in the throat that is able to sense breathing patterns during sleep and make the proper adjustments to the relaxation of the tongue and throat.  Users simply activate the machine at night with a hand-held remote and turn the system off when they wake up.

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