People with sleep apnea are at a higher risk for serious health complications, making it critical to seek treatment as soon as possible. Published in this month’s issue of the journal Sleep, a new study is able to show that obese people with sleep apnea also have a significantly larger tongue with a higher percentage of fat than obesity contributes to.
As the first study to produce these results, it may be able to help explain the relationship between obesity and sleep apnea. 90 obese adults with sleep apnea and 31 obese adults without the sleep disorder, had their upper airway analyzed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Cutting edge technology was also used to fully examine the size and fat deposits in the tongue.
Even after adjusting for other factors such as body mass index (BMI), race, age and gender, researchers found greater tongue volume and tongue fat among the participations with the sleep disorder. Another interesting find was that the high percentage of tongue fat was mostly gathered in one region, toward the back of the tongue.
“Tongue size is one of the physical features that should be evaluated by a physician when screening obese patients to determine their risk for obstructive sleep apnea,” stated American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler. “Effective identification and treatment of sleep apnea is essential to optimally manage other conditions associated with this chronic disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and depression.”
The study authors also included in their findings that the enlarged tongue may also be impairing the muscles that attach it to bone, changing its position which blocks a person’s airway. This finding could lead to more physicians encouraging their obese patients to lose weight through dieting to reduce their tongue size, improving their sleep.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine; obesity is a predictor of sleep apnea, while losing weight is an effective tool to treat it.