Electrical Stimulation May Improve Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea v2Patrick Strollo Jr., MD of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center presented preliminary data on the use of a surgically implanted neurostimulator to improve sleep apnea symptoms. The device was implanted to stimulate the hypoglossal nerve. The participants in the study were 124 patients who could not tolerate the CPAP mask treatment or who were never before treated. After implantation they were treated and followed for one year. The participants were mostly men (83%) in their mid-fifties (mean age 54.5 years old), Caucasian and overweight (mean BMI 28.4 kg/m2). Thirty eight percent of the participants had hypertension, 9% were diabetic, and 5% had COPD. Interestingly, 18% had undergone previous surgery on the uvula called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty which was felt to be an effective alternative to wearing a CPAP mask for sleep.

At 12 months all the parameters to assess the effects of sleep apnea had improved dramatically. Interestingly enough, some of the study participants were allowed to continue treatment while others were randomized to stop the neurostimulation. Those who stopped the treatment were followed and their scores regressed.

Like all treatments there were some adverse effects such as tongue pain and mild to moderate infection in 1%.

This is very preliminary data. The study must be presented to a peer review journal, evaluated and published before this treatment becomes acceptable. We recognize sleep apnea as a dangerous disease that leads to pulmonary hypertension and right heart failure if not treated. CPAP masks work well but are cumbersome, awkward and difficult to travel with. The epidemic of sleep apnea is being fueled by a worldwide epidemic of obesity. The current preliminary work at the University of Pittsburgh holds out hope for a future solution that may be easier to live with.

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