Upper Airway Stimulation

Learn what Vanderbilt does differently.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is the first hospital in Middle Tennessee where upper airway stimulation therapy became available as a treatment option for people with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea unable to benefit from continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). 

The FDA-approved treatment involves implantation of a small device under the skin. While you sleep, gentle stimulation of key muscles keeps the airway open without the need for any additional mask or machine.

Dr. David Kent works closely with his colleagues in the Sleep Medicine department at Vanderbilt Medical Center to determine whether a patient is a good candidate for this unique therapy. After implantation, our group will help you manage your device in the years to come.

How does Upper Airway Stimulation work?

The fully implanted system consists of three parts:

1) A small sensor to detect breathing

2) An upper airway muscle stimulation lead

3) A pulse generator to provide therapy stimulation

You activate your therapy before sleep using a small remote control. After you fall asleep your therapy monitors your breathing, using gentle muscle stimulation to keep your airway from closing.

What does the implantation procedure involve?

Implantation is done under general anesthesia and is generally an outpatient procedure, although some patients with more complicated medical histories may be asked to stay overnight. Three small incisions are required to place each component of the device under the skin.

The incisions and device placement are expected to create some mild to moderate discomfort that your physician will help you manage. Most patients will be fully recovered and able to return to normal, non-strenuous activities after two weeks. You will be asked to limit raising your right arm over your head for one month after surgery. After this you will be able to return to all of your regular activities.

One month after surgery, your device is activated in the clinic by your doctor and adjusted to your own personal needs. You will then spend the next one to two months getting used to using therapy while you sleep at night. At the end of this period you will return to the sleep lab to determine whether your therapy settings are right for you, where they can be further adjusted if necessary.

Occasionally some patients will require additional visits to optimize their therapy settings. Once stable settings are reached, you will typically follow up with your sleep doctors once or twice a year to make sure your device continues to function well and work well for you.

Interested in learning more?

To learn if you qualify for this therapy, contact our clinic at (615) 322-6180.