Researchers surgically implanted an upper-airway stimulation device in patients with obstructive sleep apnea who had difficulty accepting or adhering to CPAP therapy.
According to an abstract in the New England Journal of Medicine, the primary outcome measures were the apnea–hypopnea index (AHI, with a score of ≥15 indicating moderate-to-severe apnea) and the oxygen desaturation index (ODI; the number of times per hour of sleep that the blood oxygen level drops by ≥4 percentage points from baseline).
Secondary outcome measures were the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, the Functional Outcomes of Sleep Questionnaire (FOSQ), and the percentage of sleep time with the oxygen saturation less than 90%. Consecutive participants with a response were included in a randomized, controlled therapy-withdrawal trial.
The NEJM reports that in this uncontrolled cohort study, upper-airway stimulation led to significant improvements in objective and subjective measurements of the severity of obstructive sleep apnea.
Several media outlets, including Gizmodo, reported that the “pacemaker-like electronic implant could reduce symptoms by nearly 70%, by directly stimulating the muscles in the throat to keep the airway open during sleep. It’s like autopilot for breathing.”
Reporter Robert Sorokanich writes that the apnea device is implanted under the skin of the chest. “A sensor placed between the fourth and fifth ribs monitors breathing patterns, sending a signal to the hypoglossal nerve with each breath,” he writes. “The nerve signal stimulates the muscle at the back of the tongue, keeping the airway open to allow normal breathing. Patients use a remote control to turn the device on at bedtime, and switch it off when they get up.”