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Could electric shocks cure sleep apnea

15-07-2013

Electric shocks sound like something out of the nightmarish past of mental health. They are frequently used as a cinematic shortcut, informing us that whatever hospital or facility that is administering them is out of date and barbaric and while it is true that in most circles it is seen as a brutal and ineffective treatment for mental disorders there could be a new area where they actually have some medical utility.

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that is characterised by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow or infrequent breathing during sleep. Each pause in breathing, called an apnea, can last from at least ten seconds to minutes, and may occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Sleep apnea is usually a chronic (ongoing) condition which disrupts your sleep. The problem is that as your breathing pauses or becomes shallow, the sufferer will often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep. Consequently, the quality of sleep is reduced, as it is vital to move through the sleep cycles in a natural and undisturbed manner. Waking during the night interrupts the cycle and  makes the sufferer tired during the day. As a widespread sleep disorder that can go undiagnosed for many years, sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.

It turns out that electric shocks may be able to cure sleep apnea, though patients will not be biting down on a rubber bit whilst having a scary looking device placed on their head. Patients would have a pacemaker-like device implanted under the skin, near the collarbone, with a wire being fed to the problematic twelfth cranial nerve. While this may sound serious it is actually a very basic surgical procedure that is easily done and easily reversed.

The Upper Airway Stimulation (UAS) therapy stimulates the nerve that controls the base of the tongue with a small electrical pulse during sleep, to keep it toned and in place. There is a sensor that detects when the sufferer takes a breath and instructs the implant to stimulate the nerve. The system is adjusted so that the tongue receives just enough current to keep it from blocking the airway but not enough to wake the sleeper. There is even a remote allows the patient to activate and deactivate the system themselves at any time. To ensure it doesn’t keep them awake a timer can also be set so that the zapping is delayed until after the patient has gone to sleep.

The upper airway stimulation via the implanted neurostimulator provides a safe and effective treatment for moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea, so if you suffer from sleep apnea then you might be in line for some shock therapy.

Considering the trouble that even mild sleep apnea can cause for people this could hold great promise for those who suffer from this debilitating condition. It might even rejuvenate the much maligned shock therapy treatment.

While still in development this holds great promise for those suffering from this condition.


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