Clinical, anthropometric and upper airway anatomic characteristics of obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome

Respiration. 2007;74(5):517-24. doi: 10.1159/000097790. Epub 2006 Dec 5.


Background: Obese subjects are at increased risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS). However, the individual role of local (i.e., upper airway-related) and general (clinical and whole-body anthropometric) characteristics in determining OSAS in obese patients is still controversial.

Objectives: To contrast the clinical, anthropometric and upper airway anatomical features of obese subjects presenting or not presenting with OSAS.

Methods: Thirty-seven obese (BMI > or =30 kg/m(2)) males with OSAS and 14 age- and gender-matched obese controls underwent clinical and anthropometric (BMI, waist-to-hip ratio and neck circumference) evaluation. In a subgroup of subjects (18 and 11 subjects, respectively), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) during wakefulness was used to study the upper airway anatomy.

Results: OSAS patients showed significantly higher BMI, waist-to-hip ratio and neck circumference as compared to controls (p < 0.05). They also referred to nonrepairing sleep, impaired attention, and previous car accidents more frequently (p < 0.05). The transversal diameter of the airways (TDAW) at the retroglossal level by MRI was found to be an independent predictor of the presence and severity of OSAS (p < 0.05). Parapharyngeal fat increase, however, was not related to OSAS. A TDAW >12 mm was especially useful to rule out severe OSAS (apnea-hypopnea index >30, negative predictive value = 88.9%, likelihood ratio for a negative test result = 0.19).

Conclusions: MRI of the upper airway can be used in association with clinical and anthropometric data to identify obese males at increased risk of OSAS.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Polysomnography
  • Respiratory System / pathology
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / epidemiology*