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Barcelona hospital pioneers ‘less invasive’ sleep apnea treatment

The health center predicts treating up to 80 patients in 2018 with this new robotic surgery

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02 January 2018 03:46 PM

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ACN | Barcelona

The Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona is the first center in Catalonia to treat the sleep apnea disorder with a new robotic surgery. Since July, the hospital’s otolaryngology department has successfully treated seven patients who suffer from sleep apnea (a disorder that causes interrupted or shallow breathing during sleep) as a consequence of their upper airway being obstructed due to excessive tissue.

The operation is carried outwith the ‘Da Vinci’ robotic technology, which allows for a less invasive procedure which lasted less time, led to a better recovery and is even easier for health professionals to carry out. This 2018, the hospital plans to treat between 60 and 80 patients who suffer from this sleep disorder with the new technology. 

The head of the hospital’s otolaryngology department, doctor Juan Lorente, explained that the new technology represents “a step forward” because its use guarantees the surgeon a “better vision” of the area of intervention, as well as better movement for his or her work.

Indeed, the hypopharynx, the lower part of the pharynx, along with the base of the tongue are two important anatomical components that may obstruct breathing in sleep apnea. These areas are quite difficult to access by conventional means, while the 'Da Vinci' system allows for a minimally invasive approach, without tracheostomy, while reducing the intervention time by about 100 minutes. 

Doctor Lorente estimated the success rate for the procedure at about 70%, due to the possibility that “there may be” part of the obstruction found in another part of the body than that being operated on.  

The healthcare professional also advocated for a healthy diet for those who suffer from sleep apnea, as fat “concentrates” and may obstruct upper respiratory systems; indeed, obesity is one of the most important factors of the disorder.

Juan Lorente also explained that simply because a patient snores does not mean that he or she has sleep apnea. The surgeon explained that it’s only “cause for concern” if the patient experiences sleep apnea “about 10 to 15 times per hour,” but ultimately stressed that “it all depends from how much oxygen is in the blood.”

According to the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, sleep apnea is more and more frequent throughout the world, with a prevalence of 4-6% in men and 2-4% in women, with an estimated 1,200,000 to 2,150,000 affected individuals in Spain, of which between 5-9% are diagnosed and treated. 

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  • A doctor's visit at the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital on January 2 2018 (by Guillem Roset)