New implantable device eases sleep apnea

June 6, 2016, University of Alabama at Birmingham
New implantable device eases sleep apnea
The Inspire stimulation device, left, and remote controller, right. Credit: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Mike Freeman's backpacking buddies did not want their tents near his, and his wife was tired of waking in the middle of the night to get him to roll over and stop snoring. Mike has sleep apnea, a pretty dramatic case, he has been told. But an online ad that led him to a University of Alabama at Birmingham ENT surgeon has helped.

"I was diagnosed with sleep apnea back in 1995," Freeman said. "It kept me from getting restful sleep, so I was always tired and frequently woke with a headache. And the snoring was pretty hard on my wife, not to mention my camping friends."

Sleep apnea is a common problem, affecting some 18 million Americans. Freeman's form is known as obstructive sleep apnea, in which the airway becomes blocked during sleep by the tongue or other soft tissue in the mouth and airway, leading to shallow breathing or pauses between breaths.

And it is not just about snoring—apnea increases the risk of , heart attack, stroke and diabetes and can lead to or worsen heart failure. Since it interferes with a good night's sleep, it can also increase the risk for workplace or traffic accidents caused by drowsiness.

After Freeman's diagnosis, he was prescribed continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, as are most patients diagnosed with OSA. While this is a highly effective treatment for those who tolerate it, it is estimated that nearly half of patients are intolerant of CPAP. Freeman struggled to use CPAP but was never able to achieve the clinical benefit he needed.

Then he saw an online ad for a new product, an implantable stimulator for apnea called Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation. Inspire therapy consists of a breathing sensor, a stimulation lead, and a small battery/computer. Implanted during a short surgery, Inspire therapy continuously monitors a patient's breathing while asleep and delivers mild stimulation to key airway muscles, causing the tongue and other soft tissues to move out of the airway.

"Obstructive occurs primarily because of the loss of muscle tone when we are sleeping," said Kirk Withrow, M.D., an assistant professor in the UAB Department of Otolaryngology in the School of Medicine and the first surgeon in Alabama to implant the Inspire device. "The tongue or other soft tissues interfere with airflow leading to obstruction. The stimulation from the device moves the tongue slightly forward and out of the airway, allowing for more normal airflow."

New implantable device eases sleep apnea
Credit: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Freeman reached out to Withrow after seeing the ad, and soon discovered he was a candidate for the procedure. Appropriate candidates have failed CPAP or other treatments and have the type of obstruction that will respond to the electrical stimulus of the device.

The device is implanted in the chest, with a stimulation lead run underneath the skin to a position near the hypoglossal nerve, the nerve that controls movement of the tongue. Most patients go home the day of surgery. In about a month, the device is turned on during a clinic visit. Thereafter, patients use a remote control to turn the device on at bedtime and off upon rising.

Freeman first saw Withrow in November 2015, and the device was implanted in January. On Feb. 15, it was turned on for the first time. Freeman could not be happier.

"I don't even wake up when it stimulates or realize that it is taking place," Freeman said. "I'm sleeping better than I have in two decades, and I'm feeling great."

Freeman says he has put away the CPAP machine and is back on the trail.

"We did a backpacking trip to the Sipsey Wilderness in March, and I slept great," he said. "No struggling with CPAP, no snoring. My companions were pleased."

There are 65 centers nationwide implanting the Inspire device. Withrow has performed a dozen cases and has seen very positive results from every patient.

"For the appropriate patient, this therapy is an excellent alternative to other surgical options for treating OSA," Withrow said. "Sleep apnea is a serious issue and can have significant effects on health and well-being, beyond the issues of snoring or lack of sleep. We're very pleased to be able to offer this as an alternative therapy for our patients with ."

Explore further: Still tired after getting your zzz's? You might have sleep apnea

Related Stories

Still tired after getting your zzz's? You might have sleep apnea

March 14, 2016
(HealthDay)—Many Americans will be feeling sleepy in the days after Daylight Saving Time starts. But some people with sleep apnea wake up feeling exhausted every morning.

Sleep apnea therapy treats patients through upper airway stimulation

June 30, 2015
A state-of-the-art implant designed to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is now being offered at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The device is the first of its kind approved by the U.S. Food and Drug ...

Cranial nerve stimulation shows promise as sleep apnea tx

October 1, 2015
(HealthDay)—An implanted cranial nerve stimulation device might improve sleep patterns and quality of life for patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), according to findings presented this week at the annual meeting ...

Don't let sleep apnea take your breath away

April 27, 2016
There are some moments in life that take your breath away, but if those moments are happening while you're asleep, it might be time to see a sleep expert, according to a sleep specialist at Baylor College of Medicine.

Clinical trial underway for treatment of sleep apnea in adolescents with Down syndrome

May 9, 2016
An FDA-approved clinical trial is underway at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital for Children to evaluate the use of a hypoglossal nerve stimulator—a technology currently available to adults with ...

Recommended for you

Sleep apnea, congenital heart disease may be deadly mix for hospitalized infants

September 17, 2018
Infants often aren't screened for sleep apnea, but a new study suggests the disorder may be tied to an increased risk of death in infants with congenital heart disease.

Sleep deficiency increases risk of a motor vehicle crash

April 4, 2018
Excessive sleepiness can cause cognitive impairments and put individuals at a higher risk of motor vehicle crash. However, the perception of impairment from excessive sleepiness quickly plateaus in individuals who are chronically ...

Sleep apnea study finds male-female differences in cerebral cortex thickness, symptoms

March 13, 2018
Researchers from the UCLA School of Nursing examined clinical records and magnetic resonance imaging brain scans of patients who were recently diagnosed with sleep apnea, and discovered several apparent connections between ...

Synthetic cannabinoid reduces sleep apnea

November 29, 2017
A synthetic version of a molecule found in the cannabis plant was safe and effective in treating obstructive sleep apnea in the first large, multi-site study of a drug for the sleep disorder funded by the National Institutes ...

Sleeping through the snoring: Researchers identify neurons that rouse the brain to breathe

November 2, 2017
A common and potentially serious sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea affects at least one quarter of U.S. adults and is linked to increased risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. In a paper published today ...

Remede system approved for sleep apnea

October 9, 2017
(HealthDay)—The Remede sleep system, an implanted device that treats central sleep apnea by activating a nerve that sends signals to the diaphragm to stimulate breathing, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.