Medical Definition of Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty: A type of operation designed to tighten up flabby tissues and enlarge the upper air passages. The operation involves reshaping the uvula (uvulo-), soft palate (-palato-) and throat (-pharyngo-).

The uvula is a small piece of soft tissue that can be seen dangling down from the soft palate over the back of the tongue. The uvula is described variously shaped like a U, a tear or a grape. (Its name comes from the Latin word for "grape," uva.) The uvula has its own little muscle, the musculus uvuae, to help it stiffen and change shape, so it helps fill in the space at the back of the throat. It helps keep food from going down the wrong way down the breathing passage when one swallows. Singers credit the uvula with letting them produce a vibrato, a wavy up-and-down sound.

The uvula is one of the soft-tissue structures commonly blamed for snoring and for sleep apnea (a break in breathing during sleep). Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is a treatment for these conditions.

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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