Relationship between body mass index, age and upper airway measurements in snorers and sleep apnoea patients

P Mayer, J L Pépin, G Bettega, D Veale, G Ferretti, C Deschaux, P Lévy
European Respiratory Journal 1996, 9 (9): 1801-9
Anatomical pharyngeal and craniofacial abnormalities have been reported using upper airway imaging in snorers with or without obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). However, the influences of the age and weight of the patient on these abnormalities remain to be established. The aim of this study was, therefore, to evaluate in a large population of snorers with or without OSA, the relationship between body mass index (BMI), age and upper airway morphology. One hundred and forty patients were referred for assessment of a possible sleep-related breathing disorder and had complete polysomnography, cephalometry and upper airway computed tomography. For the whole population, OSA patients had more upper airway abnormalities than snorers. When subdivided for BMI and age, however, only lean or younger OSA patients were significantly different from snorers as regards their upper airway anatomy. The shape of the oropharynx and hypopharynx changed significantly with BMI both in OSA patients and snorers, being more spherical in the highest BMI group due mainly to a decrease in the transverse axis. On the other hand, older patients (> 63 yrs), whether snorers or apnoeics, had larger upper airways at all pharyngeal levels than the youngest group of patients (< 52 yrs). For the total group of patients, upper airway variables explained 26% of the variance in apnoea/hypopnoea index (AHI), whereas in lean (BMI < 27 kg.m-2) or youngest (age < 52 yrs) subjects upper airway variables explained, respectively 69 and 55% of the variance in AHI. In conclusion, in lean or young subjects, upper airway abnormalities explain a major part of the variance in apnoea/hypopnoea index and are likely to play an important physiopathogenic role. This study also suggests that the shape of the pharyngeal lumen in awake subjects is more dependent on body mass index than on the presence of obstructive sleep apnoea. Further investigation looking at upper airway imaging for surgical selection in obstructive sleep apnoea should focus on lean and young patients.


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