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Ohio State University Doctors Using Pacemaker-Like Device To Help Sleep Apnea Sufferers


UPDATED: Monday September 23, 2013 6:36 PM

If you are one of the 12 million Americans who suffer from sleep apnea, you know how hard it can be to get a good night's sleep.

Patients often use everything from breathing strips to overnight masks.

For those with central sleep apnea, the most serious form, doctors are testing a pacemaker-like implant.

The results have been impressive.

There was a time that Leslie McGuire would dread going to bed due to his sleep apnea. He felt exhausted most of the day, and it didn't get better at night.

"Before I was diagnosed, I would wake up probably five or six times a night, sitting on the side of the bed, gasping for air," added McGuire.

For many, wearing a breathing mask at night can help - especially those with obstructive sleep apnea, in which airways tend to close.

Leslie has central sleep apnea, and the mask did not work.

When it came to finding a treatment, time was of the essence.

"This form of sleep apnea is particularly dangerous because it's associated with patients just stopping breathing periodically," said Dr. William Abraham, a cardiologist from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Abraham says while we are sleeping, the brain continues to tell the body to breathe.

In central sleep apnea, the signal is faulty.

See 10TV's previous report about this technology.

The doctors at Ohio State are implanting pacemaker-like devices just under the patient's collar bone. A wire runs to the patient's diaphragm. At night, the wire signals the diaphragm, prompting patients to breathe.

"What we saw were remarkable results, more than a 50 percent reduction in the number of events occurring per hour and more than a 90 percent reduction, specifically in those events related to central sleep apnea," said Abraham.

It has worked for McGuire, who says he now sleeps through the night and has more energy during the day.

Doctors say the device is also effective because it does not require any compliance from the patients. From time to time, doctors will check the device. But once it's implanted and turned on, it works automatically.

Doctors hope to use it to treat patients nationally in the coming months.

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