OSU docs pioneer new treatment for sleep apnea!

The Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital

Monday’s Lantern had a story about a group of OSU researchers who were the first scientists in the United States to implant a nerve stimulator in the diaphragm of a person with central sleep apnea.  Go Bucks!!

Sleep apnea is a condition where the normally rhythmic breathing cycles are interrupted during sleep.  These non-breathing (apnea) episodes can have serious health consequences: increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and stroke; poor school or work productivity; even increased risk for accidents due to daytime drowsiness. 

Symptoms of sleep apnea include excessive daytime fatigue or sleepiness, poor attention or concentration, non-refreshing sleep and headaches.  Sounds pretty familiar, right?  But before you rush into the Student Health to get your robo-respirator, note that this device is indicated for central sleep apnea (CSA), not obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  What’s the difference?

Generally, central sleep apnea is limited to people with heart failure, stroke or brain injuries.  These conditions cause damage to the parts of the nervous system that signals your body to breathe.  This is a pretty rare condition, especially among college and graduate students. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by blockage of the airways that prevents breathing, even though the brain’s breathing signals are working just fine.  It can be caused by anatomic problems like big tonsils, a short neck or small jaw, but far and away the biggest risk factor is obesity.  Our muscles relax during sleep and excess weight on the chest, abdomen and neck can cause the muscles to collapse and close off the airway.  Because of this, OSA causes severe SNORING, while CSA does not.

OSA used to be identified primarily in middle-aged, overweight men (like me), but unfortunately with the obesity epidemic in our country, the rates are increasing in younger adults and even children.  If you’re having any of the symptoms mentioned above, or your neighbors down the hall can hear you snore, you should see your health care provider. 

OSA is diagnosed by an overnight sleep study test called a polysomnogram.  It’s usually treated with a machine that delivers air at a high pressure through a mask to keep the airways open during sleep called CPAP.  Throat surgery or oral appliances to alleviate the obstructions are sometimes used as well.

But the absolute mainstay of treatment is weight loss.  So there’s another reason added to the very long list of reasons to watch your weight and get active.  LOSE WEIGHT = BETTER SLEEP = BETTER SCORE on your physics midterm??  Let’s hope!!

Roger Miller, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University