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Obesity is associated with both obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and obesity hypoventilation. Differences in adipose tissue distribution are thought to underlie the development of both OSA and hypoventilation. We explored the relationships between the distribution of upper airway, neck, chest, abdominal and muscle fat in very obese individuals.We conducted a cross-sectional cohort study of individuals presenting to a tertiary sleep clinic or for assessment for bariatric surgery. Individuals underwent magnetic resonance (MR) imaging of their upper airway, neck, chest, abdomen and thighs; respiratory polygraphy; 1 week of autotitrating CPAP; and morning arterial blood gas to determine carbon dioxide partial pressure and base excess.Fifty-three individuals were included, with mean age of 51.6 ± 8.4 years and mean BMI of 44.3 ± 7.9 kg/m2; there were 27 males (51%). Soft palate, tongue and lateral wall volumes were significantly associated with the AHI in univariable analyses (p < 0.001). Gender was a significant confounder in these associations. No significant associations were found between MRI measures of adiposity and hypoventilation.In very obese individuals, our results indicate that increased volumes of upper airway structures are associated with increased severity of OSA, as previously reported in less obese individuals. Increasingly large upper airway structures that reduce pharyngeal lumen size are likely to lead to OSA by increasing the collapsibility of the upper airway. However, we did not show any significant association between regional fat distribution and propensity for hypoventilation, in this population.

Original publication




Journal article


Sleep & Breathing = Schlaf & Atmung

Publication Date



Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, OX3 7LE, UK.