UAMS Offers New Implantable Sleep Apnea Treatment

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is first in Arkansas to offer a new, minimally invasive treatment for sleep apnea, a serious health condition caused when an airway blockage triggers constant interruptions in sleep.


An outpatient surgery technique conducted in an office setting with local anesthetic, the Pillar Procedure, has been used to treat mild to moderate sleep apnea as well as snoring. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the airway, often when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. As a result, people with sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly.


It is estimated that most of the millions of Americans who snore also have some form of sleep apnea.


“Sleep apnea poses a significant health risk, commonly causing fatigue that can lead not only to loss of productivity and an increased likelihood of being in an accident but also long-term health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, memory problems and headaches,” said Samuel B. Welch, M.D., Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine and Assistant Chief of Surgery of Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.


“The Pillar Procedure offers a new option for treating mild sleep apnea that is a simple, single treatment with minimal discomfort for patients,” Welch said.


The Pillar Procedure was developed by Restore Medical of Minnesota and recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of mild sleep apnea. The procedure places three inserts in the patient’s soft palate, causing the palate to stiffen. The stiffening helps to prevent or lessen blockages of the airway – effectively treating sleep apnea and substantially reducing the severity of snoring in most individuals.


Pillar inserts are 18mm in length and made from a woven soft polyester material that has been used for many years in implantable medical products. The Pillar Procedure is conducted in a single, short office setting and is reversible. Most patients report that the procedure is virtually painless and that they are able to resume normal activities and diet the same day.


Welch said an overnight sleep study can pinpoint the severity and cause of sleep apnea. A decision can then be made on which treatment option, such as the Pillar Procedure or other surgical or non-surgical treatments, is best for the patient, he said.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,170 students and 650 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4 billion a year.


UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute.