US News: Researchers think they’ve found a sleep apnea drug that can treat the common sleep disorder.

The drug sulthiame, normally used to treat epilepsy, appeared to reduce breathing pauses by more than 20 events an hour, on average, in obstructive sleep apnea patients, according to early clinical trial results.

Those results are some of the strongest ever reported in a drug trial for sleep apnea, researchers said. “For just over a third of patients in the study, only half of their breathing pauses were left, and in 1 in 5 the number fell by at least 60%,” said lead researcher Dr. Jan Hedner, a professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

Sulthiame inhibits an enzyme that serves to maintain the balance of carbon dioxide in the body.

Some people suffer from what doctors call a “high loop gain,” an elevated sensitivity to blood levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, said Dr. Kannan Ramar, a sleep medicine expert with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

High loop gain is believed to contribute to sleep apnea in about a third of patients with obstructive sleep apnea, Ramar said.

This early clinical trial was designed to test mainly for safety, and involved about 60 people with moderate or severe sleep apnea. Patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups — one receiving a high dose of the drug, another receiving a lower dose, and a third receiving a placebo.

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