Lose tongue fat to improve common sleep disorder

CPAP Machine Sleep Apnea

CPAP Machine Sleep Apnea

Millions of Americans stop breathing in their sleep, and there may be a unusual reason why: Their tongues are too fat. In this study, the researchers measured the effect of a 10 percent reduction in weight on the upper airways of 67 obese OSA patients. The Journal takes pride in publishing the most innovative science and the highest quality reviews, practice guidelines and statements in pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine.

A common and potentially serious sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea may be alleviated by a slimmer tongue, according to a new study out of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine.

Dr Richard Schwab, a sleep specialist from Penn Medicine, told CNN Health: "The question then was if you reduce the fat in your tongue, does that improve your 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. Obesity is the primary risk factor for OSA, and previous studies have shown that decreases in body weight result in decreases in the Apnea/Hypopnea Index (AHI), a measure of how often a patient's breathing stops completely or partially while sleeping. A 2007 study found that people with higher body mass indices (BMIs) accumulate a higher percentage of fat in their tongues than people with lower BMIs. The researchers next step was to determine if reducing tongue fat would improve symptoms and to further examine cause and effect. On average, the participants lost almost 10% of their body weight over six months, which resulted in a 31% improvement in sleep apnea.

MRI scans were conducted before and after the weight-loss intervention on the pharynx and abdomen of the participant.

The team found that reducing the volume of fat in the tongue was the main link between losing weight and improving sleep apnea. The study sought to pinpoint what exactly is causing this obstruction of the airway.

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The patients' weight loss also led to a reduction in the size of a jaw muscle that controls chewing and muscles on either side of the airway, which also helped. Both these changes also improved OSA, but not to the same extent as reduced tongue fat.

The researchers suggest future studies should explore whether certain diets or therapeutic treatment techniques can aid in reducing tongue fat for treating sleep apnea.

However, the researchers said, these types of interventions have not yet been tested.

Obstructive sleep apnea refers to a condition in which one's airflow is temporarily blocked during sleep, preventing the person from breathing properly. This means that Asian patients may generally be more at risk for severe sleep apnea symptoms. Their recent study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, said reducing tongue fat is a primary factor in lessening the severity of OSA.

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