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New device offers relief for moderate to severe sleep apnea sufferers

The Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation device delivers mild stimulation to the airway muscles to reduce or eliminate moderate to severe sleep apnea.
Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation therapy delivers mild electrical stimulation to the airway to reduce or eliminate moderate to severe sleep apnea. On May 6, a University of Minnesota Health care team became the first in the Twin Cities area to successfully place the innovative new medical implant in a patient.
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A University of Minnesota Health care team became the first in the Twin Cities area to successfully place an innovative new medical implant designed to treat sleep apnea last week.

Otolaryngologist Jennifer Hsia, MD, led the May 6 procedure to implant the new medical device, called Inspire therapy, in a patient suffering from severe sleep apnea.

“I think it’s a game-changer,” said Hsia, a sleep surgery specialist. “The therapy provided through this implant is the most recent breakthrough in the treatment of sleep apnea. The amazing thing about the therapy is that it is the only treatment that targets the nerves that control the muscles of the airway—an area we have not been able to address until now.”

Sleep apnea is a medical condition that occurs when a person’s upper airway—a narrow, muscular tube—temporarily collapses during the night, which prevents regular breathing patterns and disrupts sleep. When the brain realizes the body isn’t receiving enough oxygen, it rouses the person to reopen in the airway. Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring and daytime sleepiness.

Sleep apnea affects 9-20 percent of adults in the United States. People at a higher risk of sleep apnea are typically older, male and those who are considered overweight or obese, Hsia said. Not only does the condition disrupt sleep, it is also associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, weight gain and high blood pressure, Hsia said.

Learn more about our University of Minnesota Health otolaryngology services.

Patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea are often fitted with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask. The mask, which fits over the mouth and nose, uses pressurized air to keep a person’s airway open at night. But the masks can be uncomfortable and the machine is not effective for all patients, Hsia said. For patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea, a dental appliance is also available to help treat the condition.

The Inspire therapy, which received FDA approval in April 2014, is an implanted tool that works with the natural breathing patterns of the body. Based on those patterns, the device delivers mild stimulation to key airway muscles, which keeps the airway open during sleep. The device consists of a small generator, which is inserted underneath the skin of the chest, and two thin leads that are connected to the generator. One lead is a breathing sensor, which monitors a patient’s breathing patterns. The other lead is connected to the patient’s upper airway to deliver stimulation to the airway muscles. The device is inserted during a minimally invasive surgical procedure—typically in an outpatient setting.

Learn more about the Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation therapy.

An upper airway stimulation device like Inspire therapy is not suitable for all sleep apnea sufferers, Hsia said. Only patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea who have tried other medical solutions are eligible to receive the device. Physicians must also evaluate the patient to determine whether he or she has the appropriate airway anatomy to receive the device, Hsia said.

If you’ve tried CPAP and are unable to or have difficulty using it, call our Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic at 612-624-0563 to see if you may be a candidate.

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