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Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP)

Definition

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is surgery to open the upper airways by taking out extra tissue in the throat. It may be done to treat mild obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or severe snoring.

Alternative Names

Palate surgery; Uvulopalatal flap procedure; UPPP; Laser-assisted uvulopalaplasty; Radiofrequency palatoplasty; Velopharyngeal insufficiency - UPPP; Obstructive sleep apnea - uvulopalaplasty; OSA - uvulopalaplasty

Description

UPPP removes soft tissue at the back of the throat. This includes:

  • All or part of the uvula (the soft flap of tissue that hangs down at the back of the mouth).
  • Parts of the soft palate and tissue at the sides of the throat.
  • Tonsils and adenoids, if they are still there.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Your doctor may recommend this surgery if you have mild obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

  • Try lifestyle changes first, such as weight loss or changing your sleep position.
  • Most experts recommend trying to use CPAP or an oral device to treat OSA first.

Your doctor may recommend this surgery to treat severe snoring, even if you do not have OSA. Before you decide about this surgery:

  • See if weight loss helps your snoring.
  • Consider how important it is to you to treat snoring. The surgery does not work for everyone.
  • Make sure your insurance will pay for this surgery. If you do not also have OSA, your insurance may not cover the surgery.

Sometimes, UPPP is done along with other more invasive surgeries to treat more severe OSA.

Risks

Risks for anesthesia and surgery in general are:

  • Reactions to medicines or breathing problems
  • Bleeding, blood clots, or infection

Risks for this surgery are:

  • Damage to the muscles in the throat and soft palate. You may have some problems keeping liquids from coming up through your nose when drinking (called velopharyngeal insufficiency). Most often, this is only a temporary side effect.
  • Mucus in the throat.
  • Speech changes.

Before the Procedure

Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse:

  • If you are or could be pregnant
  • What drugs you are taking, including drugs, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription
  • If you have been drinking a lot of alcohol, more than 1 or 2 drinks a day

During the days before the surgery:

  • You may be asked to stop taking blood thinners such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin).
  • Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of your surgery.
  • If you smoke, try to stop. Smoking can slow healing. Ask your provider for help quitting.
  • Let your provider know about any cold, flu, fever, herpes breakout, or other illness you may have before your surgery. If you do get sick, your surgery may need to be postponed.

On the day of the surgery:

  • You will likely be asked not to drink or eat anything for several hours before the surgery.
  • Take any drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
  • Follow instructions on when to arrive at the hospital. Be sure to arrive on time.

After the Procedure

This surgery most often requires an overnight stay in the hospital to make sure you can swallow. UPPP surgery can be painful and full recovery takes 2 or 3 weeks.

  • Your throat will be very sore for up to several weeks. You will get liquid pain medicines to ease the soreness.
  • You may have stitches in the back of your throat. These will dissolve or your doctor will remove them at the first follow-up visit.
  • Eat only soft foods and liquids for the first 2 weeks after surgery. Avoid crunchy foods or foods that are hard to chew.
  • You will need to rinse your mouth after meals with a salt-water solution for the first 7 to 10 days.
  • Avoid heavy lifting or straining for the first 2 weeks. You may walk and do light activity after 24 hours.
  • You will have a follow-up visit with your doctor 2 or 3 weeks after the surgery.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Sleep apnea improves at first for about half of the people who have this surgery. Over time, the benefit wears off for many people.

Some studies suggest that surgery is best suited only for people with abnormalities in the soft palate.

References

Aurora RN, Casey KR, Kristo D, et al. Practice parameters for the surgical modifications of the upper airway for obstructive sleep apnea in adults. Sleep. 2010;33(10):1408-1413. PMID: 21061864 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21061864.

Braga A, Grechi TH, Eckeli A, et al. Predictors of uvulopalatopharyngoplasty success in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Sleep Medicine. 2013;14(12):1266-1271. PMID: 24152797 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24152797.

Qaseem A, Holty JE, Owens DK, et al; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Management of obstructive sleep apnea in adults: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159(7):471-483. PMID: 24061345 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24061345.

Wakefield TL, Lam DJ, Ishman SL. Sleep apnea and sleep disorders. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 18.


Review Date: 4/3/2017
Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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