A new implant makes it easier to sleep

A small new implantable device is providing an alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). This condition causes people to stop breathing for short periods during the night, and as well as causing daytime sleepiness, has been linked to heart disease and lower life expectancy.

The Inspire has a sensor to track breathing and a stimulator in the neck which sends a mild pulse to muscles in the throat so they keep the airway open when the user is asleep. It’s implanted in the chest can be turned on and off by remote control.

Traditionally, OSA is treated by a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which means wearing a breathing mask at night. This restores many people’s sleep, but can be uncomfortable, noisy, and inconvenient to use. But if lifestyle changes like cutting down on smoking or alcohol and losing weight don’t help, the next alternative is usually surgery to make it easier to breathe, a drastic step that still may not help.

Inspire is less invasive, as although it involves surgery, its effects are reversible. And it’s effective: clinical trials earlier this year found that it reduced sleep apnoea frequency by 68% and snoring by 85%.

University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Ohio was involved in the trials and is one the first places to use it, but Inspire’s manufacturers hope to roll it out worldwide to help more OSA sufferers ASAP.

Image via planetchopstick’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley