The Effect of Body Position on Airway Patency in Obstructive Sleep Apnea: CT Imaging Analysis

Document Type


Publication Date

September 2019


PURPOSE: Positional change during sleep influences upper airway patency. However, few studies have used imaging techniques to demonstrate the change. This study aims to determine the effect of positional change on the upper airway space. METHODS: A total of 118 subjects with sleep breathing disorders were analyzed. Participants underwent upper airway CT scans in the supine and lateral decubitus positions (right and left). They were divided into non-obstructive sleep apnea (n = 28) and obstructive sleep apnea (n = 90) groups. We measured the minimal cross-sectional area of the retropalatal/retroglossal spaces and compared the differences of those two spaces in the supine and lateral positions. CT was performed while patients were awake. RESULTS: The minimal cross-sectional area in the OSA group was significantly smaller than non-OSA group in both supine (median[interquartile range], 8.3[0.0-25.1] vs 22.2[1.0-39.6]; P = 0.018) and lateral decubitus positions (5.2[0.0-16.9] vs 21.3[6.1-38.4]; P = 0.002). As the body position of OSA patients shifted from supine to lateral, the retroglossal space increased significantly (67.3[25.1-116.3] vs 93.3[43.4-160.1]; P < 0.001). However, there was no significant difference in the retropalatal space between the supine and lateral decubitus positions. CONCLUSIONS: Positional change from the supine to lateral decubitus position expands the upper airway lumen, especially the retroglossal space. Positional OSA may be related to anatomical change of the upper airway lumen based on body position.