Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulator in the Active Duty Population: Military Readiness and Satisfaction

Matthew T. Ryan*, Michael Coulter, Jeeho Kim, Michael Noller*, Douglas Mack, Elizabeth Huuki, Charles A. Riley*, Anthony M. Tolisano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Because inadequate sleep impairs mission performance, the U.S. Army regards sleep as a core pillar of soldier readiness. There is an increasing incidence of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) among active duty (AD) service members, which is a disqualifying condition for initial enlistment. Moreover, a new diagnosis of OSA in the AD population often prompts a medical evaluation board, and if symptomatic OSA proves refractory to treatment, this may result in medical retirement. Hypoglossal nerve stimulator implantation (HNSI) is a newer implantable treatment option, which requires minimal ancillary equipment to function and may provide a useful treatment modality to support AD service members while maintaining readiness in appropriate candidates. Because of a perception among AD service members that HNSI results in mandatory medical discharge, we aimed to evaluate the impact of HNSI on military career progression, maintenance of deployment readiness, and patient satisfaction. Methods: The Department of Research Programs at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center provided institutional review board approval for this project. This is a retrospective, observational study and telephonic survey of AD HNSI recipients. Military service information, demographics, surgical data, and postoperative sleep study results were collected from each patient. Additional survey questions assessed each service member’s experience with the device. Results: Fifteen AD service members who underwent HNSI between 2016 and 2021 were identified. Thirteen subjects completed the survey. The mean age was 44.8 years (range 33-61), and all were men. Six subjects (46%) were officers. All subjects maintained AD status following HNSI yielding 14.5 person-years of continued AD service with the implant. One subject underwent formal assessment for medical retention. One subject transferred from a combat role to a support role. Six subjects have since voluntarily separated from AD service following HNSI. These subjects spent an average of 360 (37-1,039) days on AD service. Seven subjects currently remain on AD and have served for an average of 441 (243-882) days. Two subjects deployed following HNSI. Two subjects felt that HSNI negatively affected their career. Ten subjects would recommend HSNI to other AD personnel. Following HNSI, of the eight subjects with postoperative sleep study data, five achieved surgical success defined as >50% reduction of apnea–hypopnea index and absolute apnea–hypopnea index value of <20. Conclusions: Hypoglossal nerve stimulator implantation for AD service members offers an effective treatment modality for OSA, which generally allows for the ability to maintain AD status, however: The impact on deployment readiness should be seriously considered and tailored to each service member based on their unique duties before implantation. Seventy-seven percent of HNSI patients would recommend it to other AD service members suffering from OSA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475-480
Number of pages6
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2024


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