Published: Mon, January 13, 2020
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Weight Loss Improves Sleep Apnea Primarily by Reducing Tongue Fat

Weight Loss Improves Sleep Apnea Primarily by Reducing Tongue Fat

Currently, scientists - including those from the University of Pennsylvania in the USA - used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the effect of weight loss on the upper airway in obese patients.

Dr Richard Schwab, a nap specialist from Penn Medication, advised CNN Well being: "The query then used to be if you happen to cut back the fats on your tongue, does that reinforce your sleep apnoea?".

If you can not see your entire uvula - the ball-like protrusion that hangs down from the roof - you have a fat tongue, and may be at greater risk of loud snoring, and sleep apnoea. This condition may go unnoticed in mild cases, but can also be severe, causing the person to repeatedly wake up during the night, suffer from morning headaches, persistent tiredness, and more. While obesity is the main risk factor for developing sleep apnea, the scientists said there are other causes, such as having large tonsils or a recessed jaw. The study included 90 obese patients with OSA and 31 obese patients without OSA, and the tongues of people with OSA were found to be significantly larger and with more more fat than the obese people without OSA.

The patients lost nearly 10% of their body weight through diet or weight-loss surgery, on average, over six months.

The team also evaluated the severity of the participants' sleep apnea before and after their weight loss by observing each person in a sleep study. The study participants underwent MRI scans to both their pharynx as well as their abdomens, both before and after the weight loss intervention.

Surgery to the upper airways isnt always effective in treating sleep apnea, even though that does change the structures there, of course. New research has now zeroed in on the finer details of this physiological effect, revealing that a reduction of fat in the tongue appears key to lessening sleep apnea's symptoms.


MRI was also used to examine 12 measures of soft tissue volume, including tongue, tongue fat, soft palate, para-pharyngeal fat pads, lateral walls, pterygoids, epiglottis, and combined soft tissue volume.

The research was carried out by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, and built on one of their earlier studies comparing tongue size and fat content among obese patients with and without sleep apnea.

A new study, from the University of Pennsylvania, found that when people lose weight in their body, they also lose weight in their tongue.

"Primary care doctors, and perhaps even dentists, should be asking about snoring and sleepiness in all patients, even those who have a normal body mass index, as, based on our data, they may also be at risk for sleep apnea", Schwab said.

This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

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