Obstructive sleep apnea being tested at MUSC

CHARLESTON, SC (AP) - - What looks like a pacemaker for the heart, may be the ticket for a good night's sleep.  An experimental treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea is being tested at the Medical University of South Carolina, where doctors have performed one of only six surgeries in the United States, as part of a trial monitored by the Food and Drug Administration.

Sleep specialist, Dr. M. Boyd Gillespie, says the experimental treatment works by stimulating muscles to keep the airway from closing off.

Five percent of men and three percent of women in this country suffer Obstructive Sleep Apnea.  The numbers dramatically increase as people age.  People with Obstructive Sleep Apnea often snore loudly, don't sleep well at night and feel tired during the day.  It can lead to depression, irritability and memory troubles.   But according to Dr. Gillespie, it "also has the long term risk of stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and increased risk of automobile accidents."

Most patients with this sleep disorder turn to CPAP or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Treatment.  But the devices don't always deliver a good night's rest.  "A lot of times, I roll over in my sleep.  I get tangled in it.  It wakes me up," says Ray Beaudrot, a patient who suffers sleep apnea.  He has already undergone one surgery, which he had hoped would be a cure.  "But unfortunately it didn't work," he said.

As with most of these patients, the tissues of Beaudrot's throat collapse and cut off his air supply while he's sleeping.  With the new therapy, he would have two small incisions: an electrode would be implanted on the nerve to his tongue, tunneled under the skin to the pacemaker device implanted under the skin in the chest; another lead would go to his chest muscles to detect breathing.  He would be able to turn on the stimulator at bedtime using a remote control.  The nerve is stimulated on his breathing cycle.  Dr. Gillespie says patients would not feel the mild stimulation, but may feel their tongue move forward.  "After a few days it is much less noticeable," Dr. Gillespie says.

Beaudrot is hoping he will qualify for the clinical trial, especially since his snoring often awakens his wife.  "I'm probably doing this more for her than I am for myself," he says.

For those interested in taking part, you must have failed the CPAP treatment, and meet other qualifications.  There is no cost to patients who qualify.  For more information, call 1-888-708-5041.

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