As many as 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. It causes them to repeatedly stop breathing during sleep, leading to daytime fatigue and an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. Now, help is on the way.
Every night for five years, Kathy Gaberson donned a face mask, connected to hoses and compressed air. This continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP, was the best treatment available for Gaberson's sleep apnea, which had been steadily wrecking her health.
"I was driving my car locally and stopped at a stop sign and fell asleep at the stop sign," Gaberson said.
Dr. Ryan Soose is studying a new implantable device -- the Inspire upper airway stimulation therapy.
"The device itself is a pacemaker-like device that is placed just under the skin of the right upper chest," said Soose, director, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Division of Sleep Surgery.
The Inspire is connected to an electrode that stimulates the nerve of the tongue, preventing the narrowing of the throat.
"The patient has a remote control to turn it on and off when they want to use it," Soose said.
Gaberson felt a slight tingling in her throat when the device turned on, but said the feeling didn’t keep her from getting great sleep for the first time in years.
"I woke up in the morning refreshed," Gaberson explained.
A study from the New England Journal of Medicine reports that two-thirds of the patients using the upper airway stimulation device had control of their sleep apnea, meaning less daytime sleepiness, improvements in snoring, and better quality of life.
The batteries can last about five to 10 years, and there is a simple procedure to replace them when they do run out.