New device is set to revolutionise diagnosis of deadly sleeping condition

Obstructive sleep apnoea is always serious because it could signal a possible heart attack.

It causes your airway to become slightly or completely blocked during sleep. The brain, detecting low blood oxygen levels, sends signals that cause you to wake up, restoring normal breathing.

OSA can lead to interrupted sleeping and poor quality of life – with daytime sleepiness and fatigue leading to a higher risk of car accidents. It also increases the risk of dying from heart disease and stroke but up to 85% of people with OSA remain undiagnosed and untreated.

A new device could help people who have sleep apnoea to get a quicker diagnosis and improved quality of life. People at risk of OSA who are ­overweight, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or both, will be included in trialling the new device, named AcuPebble.

Researchers in the UK, led by the University of Warwick hope to revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of OSA. This small device is placed on the patient’s neck overnight, and records heart rate, breathing rate and oxygen levels. This data is automatically analysed, and a report sent to the patient’s doctor.

Currently, a patient with symptoms of OSA needs a GP referral to attend hospital and collect overnight sleep study equipment, returning it the next day. They then wait for data analysis and a hospital follow-up appointment. This is lengthy and expensive,
with long waiting times, and it also requires specialists to manually interpret the data.

The new AcuPebble device, however, can simply be posted to patients directly. It arrives with instructions to follow for an overnight sleep test and the patient can also return it by post. The results are available the next day.

Co-chief investigator professor Francesco Cappuccio at the University of Warwick, added: “Currently only a tiny proportion of people with OSA are being detected, and those who might report symptoms suggestive of OSA must wait many months before being diagnosed in specialist units.

“During this long period, untreated people with OSA may face poor quality of life, disturbed sleep with long-term consequences for their health, and possibly excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue leading to a higher risk of car accidents.

“Our study will provide the evidence needed to cut the waiting time from months to days and suggest a new diagnostic pathway. There would also be economic benefits. The highly valuable professional time of doctors and physiologists currently spent ­diagnosing OSA could be diverted to a more effective management of OSA in many more patients.”