Sound Sleep

New procedure gives apnea patients hope

Humans spend an average of one-third of their lives asleep. Therefore, it’s clear that adequate sleep is essential for the human body to function optimally. For more than 18 million American adults, sleep apnea interrupts those few hours of much-needed slumber every night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that causes fragmented sleep. Without an adequate amount of sleep each night, many systems in your body can become deranged and lead to health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.

MU Health Care is offering a new surgical option called Inspire Therapy for those who can’t tolerate conventional sleep apnea treatments.

“Our first-line treatment is positive airway pressure, or PAP,” says MU Health Care neurologist Pradeep Bollu, MD, the associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center. “We apply some type of positive pressure through the nose, mouth or sometimes both to split the airway so uninterrupted breathing can occur during the night.”

Positive airway pressure can be achieved by using a “continuous positive airway pressure” or CPAP machine, which applies pressure through a mask to keep the airway clear during sleep. Although the treatment is effective for some, many patients and their partners find the mask and noise from the machine bothersome.

“I’ve had sleep apnea for years, and I’ve never really been able to tolerate the CPAP machine,” says Larry Flakne, a prospective candidate for Inspire Therapy. “Right now, I sleep in a recliner chair or have to prop myself up with a bunch of pillows to fall asleep.”

For patients, like Flakne, who can’t tolerate the common sleep apnea treatments, Inspire Therapy offers another option: a battery-powered device that is embedded under the skin of the chest.

“Inspire Therapy senses the patient’s breathing; whenever the patient inhales, a tiny shock is sent to the nerve connected to the tongue muscles,” Bollu says. “Every time the patient breathes, the device makes room in the back of the mouth by moving the tongue forward and creating an opening in the airway.”

The device remains implanted under the skin for as long as the patient has sleep apnea. Each night, the patient must turn on the battery-powered device. In the morning, the device turns itself off.

Local sleep apnea patients are currently in the approval process to qualify for Inspire Therapy. Candidates must participate in a sleep study to prove a diagnosis of sleep apnea. Strong candidates are those for whom conventional sleep apnea treatments have proved ineffective.

“I just want to be able to get normal sleep in a bed,” Flakne says. “Inspire Therapy has been around for a while in other parts of the country, so I feel good about trying this type of treatment.”