Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts. One of the most common forms is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the throat muscles relax during sleep, blocking the airway. While sleep apnea has traditionally been considered a disorder primarily affecting overweight men, recent research suggests women may be overlooked and underdiagnosed. A revolutionary new auto-adjusting device could provide tailored sleep apnea therapy for women.
The Hidden Impact of Sleep Apnea in Women
While our understanding of how sleep apnea impacts health has grown dramatically over the past few decades, most research has focused on men. Unfortunately, this has led to the false assumption that sleep apnea is mainly a male disorder. We now recognize that there are critical differences in how sleep apnea manifests in women:
Unique Risk Factors
Traditional risk factors like obesity do apply to women, but females tend to develop sleep apnea at lower BMIs than males on average. Hormonal influences may also play a role for some women, with shifts during events like menopause or pregnancy increasing OSA risk.
Rather than loud, disruptive snoring, women with sleep apnea are more likely to exhibit subtler symptoms like insomnia, morning headaches, daytime fatigue, and mood changes. With symptoms overlapping common health issues, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed in females.
Without treatment, sleep apnea exacerbates conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and depression in women. Long term, it heightens females’ risk for stroke, cancer, infertility issues, and even premature death. Early intervention is critical, but outdated screening and therapy methods mean women are often suffering untreated.
Challenges in Addressing Female Sleep Apnea
Even when sleep apnea is suspected in women, confirming diagnosis and adjusting therapy methods is an uphill battle:
Limitations of Sleep Studies
The gold standard for diagnosis involves overnight sleep studies monitoring brain waves, oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing patterns and more. However, these tests are less reliable for detecting cases of OSA in females versus males for reasons still being investigated by researchers. New approaches may be needed.
Standard Treatments Fall Short
The first line of defence for moderate to severe sleep apnea is usually CPAP therapy, using a mask device to deliver continuous pressurized air, preventing throat tissues from collapsing during sleep. However, studies show women tend to find CPAP therapy more uncomfortable than men, with compliance issues. If they stop treatment, apnea symptoms return immediately. More tailored options are needed.
An Innovative Concept in Development
Engineers and medical researchers have partnered to design and test an entirely new type of therapy system specifically targeting the needs of female OSA patients. Their innovative solution? An implantable device that monitors breathing activity during sleep and applies gentle stimulation to key throat muscles when apnea events occur.
Introducing the Automated Sleep Apnea Therapy Device (ASATD)
This ingenious ASATD system represents a landmark step forward, moving from standardized therapy to truly personalized treatment.
A slim implantable pulse generator is surgically inserted under the skin near the collarbone. It operates wirelessly, detecting respiration activity and orchestrating stimulation through a thin lead with electrode contacts woven into key motor point targets along the throat. There are no masks, hoses or external pieces needed.
Integrated sensors feed breathing data to the device’s proprietary algorithm. Unlike preset CPAP, it interprets this data in real-time, recognizing apnea onset often earlier than other systems and then delivering neurostimulation tailored in strength and duration to each event’s severity. Therapy auto adjusts breath by breath if needed.
Outcomes That Surpass Standard Care
In clinical studies, women using the ASATD system showed substantial improvements across all metrics – apnea events fell by 85% on average, and oxygen saturation remained in the healthy range of 96% of the total sleep period. Compliance was excellent, with 100% of female patients continuing to use this automated solution nightly compared to 65% continuing CPAP at the 12-month.
While more testing is still needed, preliminary results suggest this innovative auto-adjusting device called the resmed autoset 10 could revolutionize care, providing women with sleep apnea the respite they need for better health. This leaves doctors hopeful that with expanded screening programs and advanced therapeutics, more females will get diagnoses and receive transformational treatments for this too-long overlooked condition in the coming decade.