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Over a million Britons with sleep apnoea could be diagnosed within days thanks to stick-on 'pebble'


More than a million Britons with the most common sleep disorder could be diagnosed within days thanks to a stick-on ‘pebble’ that detects breathing patterns

  • Device, called AcuPebble, sticks to neck and can diagnose in a couple of days
  • It records sounds and vibrations generated by lungs and heart as patient sleeps
  • Currently, patients referred for monitoring in sleep clinic wait up to eight months
  • NHS doctors trialling device say it is as effective as existing testing techniques

More than a million Britons with the most common sleep disorder could soon be diagnosed within days without leaving home – thanks to a stick-on sensor sent to them in the post.

The pebble-like device sticks to the neck and detects breathing patterns associated with sleep apnoea, which affects roughly 1.5 million Britons. 

Currently, patients referred for monitoring in a hospital sleep clinic wait up to eight months for investigations before they are diagnosed. 

If left untreated, the condition, in which heavy snoring disrupts breathing, increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Now, a device called AcuPebble can reduce diagnosis time to a couple of days.

Sleeping partner: The AcuPebble on the neck records heart and lung vibrations and transmits data to an app, detecting breathing patterns associated with sleep apnoea

Sleeping partner: The AcuPebble on the neck records heart and lung vibrations and transmits data to an app, detecting breathing patterns associated with sleep apnoea

What’s the difference…

between sepsis and septicaemia?

The terms are similar in that they both mean life-threatening illness as a result of infection. But they describe slightly different parts of the process.

Septicaemia simply means the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream causing an infection. It’s often called blood poisoning and features symptoms such as chills, fever and rapid heart rate or breathing.

Sepsis is the immune system’s extreme reaction to that blood poisoning.

When it detects the bacteria in the blood, it pumps out large numbers of chemical messengers that trigger inflammation throughout the body, punching holes in healthy blood vessels, causing blood clots to form and – in the worst cases – leading to fatal organ failure.

It works by recording the sounds and vibrations generated by the lungs and heart while the patient sleeps. The data is wirelessly transmitted to an app on the patient’s smartphone, which shares the results with his or her doctor.

NHS doctors trialling the device at the Royal Free Hospital in London say the results of a study involving 200 patients show it is just as effective as existing testing techniques. 

‘It means we can diagnose more patients more quickly and reduce visits to a hospital,’ says Dr Swapna Mandal, sleep apnoea specialist at the Royal Free.

Muscles in the airways naturally relax as we fall asleep. But those with sleep apnoea suffer a complete collapse of the muscles in the upper windpipe, which can temporarily interrupt breathing. 

Those with the condition will often make choking, gasping and snorting noises, and frequently wake up – sometimes as often as every few minutes.

The disruption in breathing leads spikes in blood pressure, stressing the heart.

A 2015 study in the International Journal Of Cardiology found sufferers were twice as likely than those without the condition to suffer a stroke, and 80 per cent more likely to develop heart disease. Sleep apnoea is particularly common in overweight middle-aged men.

Sufferers will often feel extremely tired, no matter how much they sleep – and their partner may report loud snoring. 

People with sleep apnoea suffer a complete collapse of the muscles in the upper windpipe

Muscles in the airways naturally relax as we fall asleep. But those with sleep apnoea suffer a complete collapse of the muscles in the upper windpipe (file photo)

Weird science: The man who became pathologically generous

A man in Brazil survived a stroke – but underwent a bizarre personality change, developing ‘pathological generosity’, according to a medical journal.

The man, 49, attempted to give away all of his money and bought gifts for children he met on the street. Scans showed low blood flow to the frontal lobe in the brain.

It’s known that injury to the frontal lobe can trigger behaviour changes.

The patient, who was also suffering from depression, was given medication. After two years, he said he felt cured and stopped the depression treatment, but his pathological generosity was unchanged.

Diagnosis involves monitoring during sleep, either with an overnight stay at a sleep clinic or with equipment for home use, however many people don’t realise they have a problem. 

Only one in five people in the UK who have it have been officially diagnosed. The AcuPebble is applied to the bottom of the throat, just below the Adam’s apple, at bedtime. Before going to sleep, patients turn on the paired smartphone app.

During sleep, sensors track changes in noise and vibrations generated while breathing and wirelessly transmits the readings to the app. If the patient reaches a high level of fluctuations, sleep apnoea is diagnosed. 

In the trial at the Royal Free Hospital, the device was able to accurately spot the condition in all patients.

Tim St Jean, 48, an engineer from Barnet, North London, was one of the first people in the UK to try the monitor. 

He began snoring heavily after putting on weight following a car accident in 2018, which cost him his left leg below the knee. ‘My teenage kids started hearing me snoring at night from their bedrooms down the hall,’ says Tim.

His GP referred him to the Royal Free and he was sent an AcuPebble device. Tim says: ‘It was really easy to use.’

Doctors diagnosed moderate sleep apnoea, declaring that the AcuPebble was just as good at spotting it as the standard methods. Tim was treated with a pressurised air mask, which he has been wearing at night since last December.

‘Now I sleep right through the night and I don’t feel at all drowsy during the day,’ he says.

‘It’s made a big difference – and the kids aren’t complaining about the noise any more.’

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