Weight loss is an effective solution for obstructive sleep apnea but the reason behind this case has been unclear. Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have found that link between the improvements in obstructive sleep apnea and the reduction in tongue fat.
Researchers discovered that tongue fat is the basic factor in reducing the severity of sleep apnea with the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for measuring the weight loss effect on the upper airways in the patients who were obese.
The findings of this study are published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
The chief of Sleep Medicine Richard Schwab said that most of the clinicians and experts of sleep apnea have not focused on the tongue fat for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. He said they now know that tongue fat is the risk factor and sleep apnea can be treated by reducing the tongue fat, they have now established the new therapeutic target.
Almost twenty-two million people in the United States suffer from serious health problems, sleep apnea in which breathing repeatedly starts and stops which randomly wake up the patients throughout the sleep cycles. Sleep apnea is usually marked by loud snoring.
It can increase the stroke risk and risk of high blood pressure. Obesity is the primary factor for obstructive sleep apnea but there are also other factors such as recessed jaw and large tonsils. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines improve the obstructive sleep apnea in almost 75% of patients as suggested by the study, the rest 25% who have trouble tolerating the machine may go for alternate options like upper airway surgery or the oral appliances which are more complicated.
A study in 2014 led by Schwab compared the obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea and those without sleep apnea. The study found that participants with sleep apnea had comparatively larger tongues and more tongue fat as compared to obese patients without sleep apnea. The researchers were aimed to determine if reducing fat on the tongue would improve the symptoms and to further examine the cause and effect.
In this new study, 67 obese people participated have mild to severe symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. The patients on average lost almost 10% of their total weight over the time of six months through weight loss surgery and through diet. Overall the condition was improved by nearly 31% after this intervention, weight loss as calculated by a sleep study.
The participants of the study underwent MRI scans for both their pharynx and abdomens before and after this weight loss intervention. The researchers measured the changes between the reduction of volume of airways and the weight loss to know which structures can lead to the improvement in obstructive sleep apnea.
The study found the tongue fat as the primary factor for the improvement in obstructive sleep apnea. The researchers also found that weight loss ultimately resulted in a reduced volume of pharyngeal lateral wall and pterygoid. These changes also contributed to improving the obstructive sleep apnea but no to that extent as the reduction of tongue fat.
The researchers believed that tongue fat is a new potential therapeutic target for improving obstructive sleep apnea. The team of researchers suggested that this intervention could pave the way for future studies to explore more therapies.