Checkups: The Christ Hospital tests a new device to help sleep apnea patients sleep, breathe easier

CINCINNATI - It’s a little scary to think that you might stop breathing while asleep at night, but if you have sleep apnea, it happens, sometimes as often as 30 times an hour.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 12 to 18 million adults in the United States have sleep apnea, and their pauses in breathing can last from just a few seconds to minutes.

Now, doctors at The Christ Hospital  are testing a new electronic stimulation device that treats people with a condition called Central Sleep Apnea (CSA).

Patients with CSA stop taking breaths at night, not because the airway is obstructed as with common sleep apnea, but because the brain doesn’t signal the lungs to take a breath.

To restore a regular breathing pattern, doctors implant a pacemaker-like device under the skin in the chest area. It’s called the remedē® system, made by a company called Respicardia.

"This device has the ability to issue a signal to one of the nerves that keeps the lungs expanding and keeps a person breathing at night," said Daniel Beyerbach MD, PhD, an electrophysiologist with The Christ Hospital Physicians.

WATCH: Dr. Beyerbach explains what sleep apnea is and how the device works in the video player above

The Christ Hospital is one of 25 centers in the U.S. participating in the clinical trials of this device. Finding effective treatments is crucial because sleep apnea can lead to sudden heart trouble.

“The most common is arrhythmias of the heart, rhythm disturbances, including atrial fibrillation, but also dangerous arrhythmias that can cause sudden death, said Daniel Beyerbach, MD.

Beyerbach says that initial results of the new stimulation device look promising.

“Patients have been seen to have better breathing at night, and there have been beneficial results on the heart function.”

For some patients, doctors say, this new stimulation device provides an alternative to wearing a mask that helps you breathe during sleep, a therapy called CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure).

How do you know if you have Central Sleep Apnea?

Patients who already have heart failure are at greater risk. For a complete diagnosis, patients need a thorough sleep study. Doctors say common signs include:

  • extreme daytime sleepiness
  • morning headaches
  • reduced exercise capacity
  • shortness of breath that’s relieved by sitting up
  • restless sleep
  • snoring (although snoring is not always prominent).

For more information about the remedē® system clinical trial, call The Carl and Edyth Lindner Center for Research and Education at 513-585-1777.

Resources: American Sleep Apnea Association  & National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Connect with WCPO contributors Mark Bowen & Gretchen MacKnight on Twitter! @markbowenmedia  @gmacknight1

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