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Hope for Patients With Severe Sleep Apnea

Imagine this – you’ve just finished having lunch and you head back to your desk at work. Minutes later, your eyes are closed and you’re asleep in front of your computer. Or picture driving home from work, and awaking to the sound of an angry motorist’s horn because you have fallen asleep at a traffic signal. These are actual scenarios that a person with severe sleep apnea faces on a daily basis. Constant exhaustion and irritability are among some of the most common effects of this dangerous condition. Watching TV, reading and even having conversations with loved ones may become difficult without falling asleep. Daytime sleepiness is one of the many health-related issues caused by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

When a person suffers from OSA, the individual can stop breathing for short periods of time while sleeping. Sleep apnea can lead to loud snoring and increase the risk of serious health conditions, such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and heart failure. Many patients are treated for sleep apnea with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure mask (CPAP mask), but in extreme cases, it doesn’t always work.

A treatment involving the implantation of a device, the Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation System, is offering hope for patients suffering from moderate-to-severe sleep apnea. Jeremy Tabak, M.D., medical director of Baptist Sleep Center at Galloway and Baptist Hospital’s Sleep Diagnostic Center, says Inspire is “an option for people who cannot tolerate other treatments like CPAP.” The Inspire device, about the size of a pacemaker, is implanted during outpatient surgery and can be wirelessly turned off and on by the patient, using a remote.

“It’s very exciting to be able to offer patients a solution to sleep apnea that is minimally invasive and does not require putting them through major surgery,” said Rolando Molina, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist at South Miami Hospital who performed Mr. Vanschaik’s outpatient procedure.

The device works via electrodes that sense a person’s breathing cycle during sleep. When a breath is needed, the device sends an impulse to the tongue, causing it to move, thus opening up the airway. For some patients, the results are immediate, for others, it takes a little adjustment of the settings on the device to make it more effective.

The Baptist Health South Florida News Team followed one patient for several months as he went through the implantation and adjustment process.

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