Scientists from the University of Gothenburg paved the way for the first drug treatment for sleep apnea.
They found that compared to before receiving the treatment, breathing pauses decreased on average by more than 20 per hour for patients given the drug.
The research is published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine and was conducted by Jan Hedner et al.
The treatment that has been tested is carbonic anhydrase (CA) inhibition, CA being an enzyme that serves to maintain a balance between carbonic acid and carbon dioxide in the body.
Several drugs with CA inhibitory properties are already available on the market and used for the treatment of glaucoma, epilepsy, and other disorders.
Previous research has not tested whether CA inhibitors also might be used to treat obstructive sleep apnea.
In the study, the team examined 59 patients with moderate or severe sleep apnea.
Patients were assigned to two groups receiving either 400 or 200 mg of the CA inhibitor, and a third group (the control group) that received a placebo. The study lasted for four weeks.
The team found that, overall, the treatment reduced the number of breathing pauses and promoted oxygenation during the night.
Among the patients who received the higher dosage of the drug, the number of breathing pauses decreased by approximately 20 per hour.
A few patients experienced side effects, such as headache and breathlessness, which were more common in those receiving the highest dose.
The study results together with established safety data of the drug sulthiame provide support for continued research on CA inhibition as a new treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.
The fact that several approved drugs in the CA inhibitor category are available on the market makes fast-tracking development of an approved drug for sleep apnea practicable.
The drug used in this clinical trial was sulthiame, which is sometimes used to treat epilepsy in children.
Today, treatment for a patient with sleep apnea is either an oral appliance therapy or a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask. Both help to maintain airway patency during sleep.
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