Obstructive sleep apnea, caused by narrowing or blockage of the airways when a person is asleep affects about 20% of the population.

If not treated, obstructive sleep apnea can increase a person’s risk of death. It is not clear whether an enlarged thyroid gland, known as a goiter, can worsen cause or worsen symptoms by compressing the airway.

Alexandra Reiher, MD, and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, evaluated the impact of goiter on apnea by assessing symptoms such as snoring before and after thyroidectomy to remove all or part of and enlarged thyroid gland.

Data presented at the 81st Annual Meeting of the American Thyroid Association showed significantly fewer patients (51% versus 71%) were considered to be at high risk for OSA following surgical reduction or removal of the thyroid gland. Symptom scores improved substantially after thyroidectomy, including a significant decrease in snoring frequency and lower scores on the question of whether the snoring bothered others.

Obstructive sleep apnea is obviously a complex problem with numerous causes, but we find it encouraging that thyroidectomy alone can provide significant improvements in nearly a third of patients, regardless of gland size.”  – Rebecca Sippel MD Assistant Professor University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

These results indicate that thyroidectomy to treat an enlarged thyroid appears to improve snoring symptoms associated with apnea. Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that evaluation of patients with obstructive sleep apnea include an assessment for goiter.