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Study: Tongue Fat Could Be Risk Factor for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Obese Adults

Obesity has long been considered the major predisposing factor for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and a new study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center’s Penn Sleep Center suggests that tongue fat in particular may be a sign of OSA in obese adults.

According to a press release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a team of researchers led by Dr. Richard J. Schwab studied 90 obese adults with OSA and 31 obese adults without OSA and found that those who had OSA also had “greater tongue volumes, tongue fat and percentage of tongue fat.”

Increased tongue fat not only enlarges the size of the tongue, but may also impair the functioning of the muscles, suggested the researchers. Unable to function properly, the tongue is more likely to obstruct the airway.

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,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler in the press release.

Dr. Schwab and his colleagues have indicated that future studies should examine the effectiveness of eliminating tongue fat through weight loss when treating obese patients with OSA.