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Upper Airway Resistance


Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS) occurs when the air passageway narrows so much that the chest muscles and diaphragm have to work very hard to pull air into the lungs. UARS is at the midpoint of severity in breathing disorders between snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. As snoring gets worse, it becomes UARS. Untreated UARS can evolve into obstructive sleep apnea.

There are major differences between those with sleep apnea and people suffering from UARS.
  • While obstructive sleep apnea is more common in men, women are as likely to suffer from UARS as men.
  • While people with sleep apnea are more likely to be overweight, it is extremely common for UARS sufferers to be normal or under weight.
  • Chronic insomnia with frequent awakenings and difficulty resuming sleep are more common in those with UARS than with sleep apnea.

To understand the difficulty that someone with UARS has with breathing, try to imagine breathing for an extended period of time through an opening no larger than a small soda straw.


UARS is often mistaken for other conditions and is frequently overlooked by those suffering from it. Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome commonly masquerades as:
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome – severe, continued tiredness that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other medical conditions.
  • Fibromyalgia – a common syndrome in which a person has long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. Studies show that a vast majority of fibromyalgia sufferers have undiagnosed UARS. When UARS is properly managed, fibromyalgia pain can dramatically decrease.
  • Migraine – a common type of headache that may occur with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light.
  • Depression – described as feeling sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps. When children don’t get enough sleep they get hyper and cranky. When adults don’t get enough sleep over a prolonged period of time, depression can easily set in. Sadly, mental health professionals rarely evaluate their patients for difficulty breathing during sleep.

Women in the third trimester of pregnancy will often develop UARS as they experience weight gain. Studies have estimated that 14 percent of women snore while 28 percent of pregnant women snore. Studies have shown that managing UARS during pregnancy can relieve the symptoms of preeclampsia, including high blood pressure.

People with UARS get reports from their physicians that their blood pressure is rising, requiring blood pressure medication to get it under control. However, sleep studies are rarely administered to find the underlying problem taking place during sleep.

Those who snore and experience daytime fatigue and sleepiness often are sent to the sleep lab to check for the presence of sleep apnea. Many times these patients don’t stop breathing often enough to get a diagnosis of sleep apnea. Since UARS is much more difficult to diagnose and because insurance companies rarely reimburse for the management of UARS, it is often overlooked.