Eileen Lightcap used to feel like she was in a fog-all day long.
"I just didn't have the desire to do anything because I was just too tired to do it," she says.
Doctors diagnosed Lightcap with obstructive sleep apnea. It's caused by the throat closing during sleep, cutting off the airway and waking the body up. It's more than an annoyance. If untreated, it can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
"We know that people with sleep apnea have a higher mortality rate than people who do not have sleep apnea," says Karl Doghramji, M.D., Medical Director of Jefferson Sleep Disorder Center in Philadelphia, Penn.
"When you think you could go to bed and not wake up the next day. I just don't think I was ready for that," Lightcap says.
That's one reason she chose to undergo a new surgical technique called a genial bone advancement trephine, or G-BAT.
"The tongue is attached to the very front portion of the jaw here. So if we can actually just move a very small portion of the jaw forward, we can pull the tongue forward and open the space behind the tongue," says Maurits Boon, M.D., an otolaryngologist at the department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Penn.
During G-BAT, doctors go in through an incision inside the lip. They move a portion of bone about the size of a penny, then add a small permanent plate to keep the tongue from blocking the airway.
Doctors say there is no change to a patient's physical appearance and the surgery is quick. Some patients may feel numbness in the jaw and lips for several months. For Lightcap, it was a small price to pay.
"I still get tired, but I don't wake up tired," she says.
Doctors say patients who have a small jaw and are not morbidly obese are the best candidates for G-BAT surgery. The most common treatment for sleep apnea is non-surgical, and involves a device that pumps a continuous flow of air overnight.
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Sleep Disorders Center