Definition of Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty

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.


Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2012

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