Importance: Many adults with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) use device treatments inadequately and remain untreated.
Objective: To determine whether combined palatal and tongue surgery to enlarge or stabilize the upper airway is an effective treatment for patients with OSA when conventional device treatment failed.
Design, setting, and participants: Multicenter, parallel-group, open-label randomized clinical trial of upper airway surgery vs ongoing medical management. Adults with symptomatic moderate or severe OSA in whom conventional treatments had failed were enrolled between November 2014 and October 2017, with follow-up until August 2018.
Interventions: Multilevel surgery (modified uvulopalatopharyngoplasty and minimally invasive tongue volume reduction; n = 51) or ongoing medical management (eg, advice on sleep positioning, weight loss; n = 51).
Main outcomes and measures: Primary outcome measures were the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI; ie, the number of apnea and hypopnea events/h; 15-30 indicates moderate and >30 indicates severe OSA) and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS; range, 0-24; >10 indicates pathological sleepiness). Baseline-adjusted differences between groups at 6 months were assessed. Minimal clinically important differences are 15 events per hour for AHI and 2 units for ESS.
Results: Among 102 participants who were randomized (mean [SD] age, 44.6 [12.8] years; 18 [18%] women), 91 (89%) completed the trial. The mean AHI was 47.9 at baseline and 20.8 at 6 months for the surgery group and 45.3 at baseline and 34.5 at 6 months for the medical management group (mean baseline-adjusted between-group difference at 6 mo, -17.6 events/h [95% CI, -26.8 to -8.4]; P < .001). The mean ESS was 12.4 at baseline and 5.3 at 6 months in the surgery group and 11.1 at baseline and 10.5 at 6 months in the medical management group (mean baseline-adjusted between-group difference at 6 mo, -6.7 [95% CI, -8.2 to -5.2]; P < .001). Two participants (4%) in the surgery group had serious adverse events (1 had a myocardial infarction on postoperative day 5 and 1 was hospitalized for observation following hematemesis of old blood).
Conclusions and relevance: In this preliminary study of adults with moderate or severe OSA in whom conventional therapy had failed, combined palatal and tongue surgery, compared with medical management, reduced the number of apnea and hypopnea events and patient-reported sleepiness at 6 months. Further research is needed to confirm these findings in additional populations and to understand clinical utility, long-term efficacy, and safety of multilevel upper airway surgery for treatment of patients with OSA.
Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12614000338662.