New implantable device for sleep apnea
By Renee Tessman, kare11.com — From kare11.com May 27, 2011 2,603 1
It's estimated one out of every 15 Americans has moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.
To treat it, many people try a machine called a CPAP, short for "continuous positive airway pressure."
But because some find it uncomfortable, up to half of those who try a CPAP machine give up on using it.
Now, there's a new treatment option on the horizon. It's being tested right here in the Twin Cities.
It's an implantable device much like a pacemaker.
To understand how it works it's important to understand what obstructive sleep apnea and CPAP machines are.
Gayle Fehr has many family members who use CPAP for obstructive sleep apnea, including her mother and brother.
She thinks she has obstructive sleep apnea too. She said, "I'm just tired a lot. I can drive, then all of a sudden I'll think, 'Oh boy. I'm getting sleepy and I know that's not good.'" She also has high blood pressure.
In mid-April, 51-year-old Fehr decided to have a sleep study done at the North Memorial Sleep Health Center in Maple Grove.
Electrodes were placed on her scalp, face, chest limbs and finger to monitor her brain activity, breathing, oxygen in the blood, heart rate and more.
Once she went to sleep, sleep technicians looked for apneas.
Apneas are pauses of ten seconds or more in breathing, caused by airway collapse, resulting in waking up several times an hour.
Fehr said, "My husband says sometimes, 'Is she breathing? No is she not.' And I just wake up a lot."
Obstructive sleep apnea can lead to heart disease, stroke, depression and maybe Fehr's high blood pressure.
If she's diagnosed with it, she said she'll try CPAP, which pushes pressurized air into a mask and then into a patient's airway to prevent the airway from collapsing during sleep.
Rik Krohn of Burnsville tried CPAP. He said, "I used it for about six months and finally just gave up." But he didn't want to.
Averaging 35 breathing stoppages an hour was not good for a man who already had one heart attack. Krohn said, "And I really didn't need that much more damage to my heart so that was really one of my biggest motivations."
Motivated to find an alternative, Krohn found one, although experimental, while reading the business section. It's a new implantable device made right here by a Maple Grove company called Inspire.
Designed like a pacemaker, and placed under the skin near the clavicle, Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation has one wire, a pressure sensor, which is placed between ribs to detect breathing rhythm.
A second wire then stimulates the hypoglossal nerve under the tongue to move the tongue out of the way as Krohn sleeps. It's operated by remote.
Krohn just holds the remote over the device implanted in his chest and clicks it on when he goes to bed. But it doesn't start working until after he falls asleep. He said, "About 20 minutes after you turn it on it kicks in so I'm not really aware of it until I wake up." He then turns it off when he wakes up.
Desperate for an alternative to CPAP, Krohn volunteered to be the first in the United States to try the Inspire device.
He's had it now for two years. He said his sleep apnea is now undetectable. He said, "I wake up in the morning happy, bright, and alert."