, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 43-50

Supine-Dependent Changes in Upper Airway Size in Awake Obstructive Sleep Apnea Patients

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The purpose of this study was to define the changes in upper airway size in response to a body position change from upright to supine. A total of 15 male Caucasian obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients with a mean apnea hypopnea index of 31.0 ± 13.9/hr were recruited for this study. A set of upright and supine cephalograms was traced and digitized for each patient. The most constricted site in the upright position was located in the velopharynx. When the body position was changed from upright to supine, a significant reduction in the anteroposterior dimension was observed only at the level of the velopharynx (p < 0.05). Sagittal cross-sectional areas of the velopharynx and the oropharynx significantly decreased (p < 0.05), but the soft palate area increased (p < 0.05). We conclude that the velopharynx is not only the narrowest site in both upright and supine body positions but also the most changeable site in response to an alteration in body position during wakefulness. Backward displacement of the soft palate with a change in shape may reflect less functional compensation in the velopharynx than that in the oropharynx and the hypopharynx and partly explain why upper airway occlusion occurs primarily in the velopharynx in OSA patients.