New chest implant could be a life-saver for sleep apnoea sufferers

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A revolutionary chest implant could help thousands of people in the United Kingdom and Ireland gain relief from the debilitating symptoms of sleep apnoea.

Many people suffer from the condition, which occurs when the airway becomes blocked during sleep because the tongue has dropped backwards.

Sleep apnoea leaves people feeling overly tired and can increase the risk of several health conditions including heart disease, stroke and dementia.

The condition can ruin the sleep routines that numerous studies say people should establish if they want to get the best quality rest every night.

Even undertaking a pre-bedtime routine of meditating for 30 minutes would have little to no impact on someone who suffers from sleep apnoea.

However, an innovative device tested by Guy’s and St Thomas’ (GSTT) health trust in London has given renewed hope to sleep apnoea sufferers.

The device has already been widely used in medical facilities in the United States and Europe, and is on track to be rolled out closer to home.

Similar in size to a pacemaker or two 50 pence coins, the device is inserted under the skin on the chest wall during an operation that lasts around one hour.

It is then connected to a thin cable that is manipulated under the skin, before being connected to the nerve that moves the tongue.

By using a handheld controller, users turn the device on half an hour before sleep and switch it off again when they wake up.

One of the initial three recipients of the implant noted that their sleep apnoea had reduced from around 40 episodes per hour to just three or four.

The disruption to sleep caused by the condition not only has the potential to trigger serious health conditions, but can also be devastating in other ways.

For example, sleep experts in Europe estimate that around one-fifth of all car accidents are caused by people who fail to get the requisite amount of sleep.

Many accidents in the workplace have also been attributed to sleep deprivation, while several major disasters occurred as a result of people falling asleep on the job.  

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment has previously been the most common way medical professionals have treated sleep apnoea.

CPAP is a machine that blows air through a mask you wear at night and is designed to hold your airway open to stop it collapsing or narrowing while you are sleeping.

However, with many people finding it uncomfortable using CPAP, the implant tested by GSTT could become far more prevalent as a treatment over the coming years.

Matthias Winker was among the first patients to receive the new implant. He had suffered with sleep apnoea for more than four years and previously used CPAP to ease the problem.

While CPAP worked to a degree, the 40-year-old found the treatment unpleasant and is delighted to have the opportunity to use the new device.

“This therapy has been a tremendous success,” Winker told the Guardian. “I now only have two or three episodes per hour for a few seconds at a time and then the device jumps in so I can breathe. It took some time to get used to but now it’s comfortable and doesn’t wake me up in the night.

“It’s very exciting to be part of such an innovative pioneering treatment. It’s had absolutely fantastic results. I’m more energised. I have a better quality of sleep, I’m more alert and my concentration is much better. My general mood has also improved because I’m not constantly tired.”