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What You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea and Surgery

Tracy R. Nasca

If you are contemplating any medical or dental procedures or surgery in the future, the following information is provided to assist you.

While sleep apnea has become a recognized medical condition within the medical community, one shouldn't assume that all healthcare professionals are aware of sleep apnea. It is the responsibility of any patient with a sleep disorder to make it known to their doctor, nurse, therapist, dentist and anyone involved in their medical care.

The preoperative conference with a member of the anesthesia department is an important time to get to know your anesthesiologist and to exchange the necessary information that will make the up and coming surgery a complete success. Always indicate to this member of the surgical team that you have sleep apnea and are using a CPAP device. Inform them of your prescribed device pressure. Ask the surgeon and anesthesiologist if it is appropriate or required to bring your CPAP with you to the hospital on the day of your surgery. Some surgery centers and hospitals prefer to use their own devices but they will need to know your prescribed pressure.

Following successful surgery and during your stay in the recovery room, it might be necessary to use CPAP, since your upper airway is still under the influence of sedating drugs and may be acting like you are asleep. During this transition from anesthesia to wakefulness, the use of CPAP can provide normal breathing until you are totally awake and alert.

Make sure someone on the healthcare team, or even a family member is given this specific responsibility to insure the use of CPAP in the recovery room, such that a smooth transition to wakefulness will occur.

During surgery, a variety of medications can be given to relax the patient and enable the surgery to go smoothly. Generally these medications can and do relax the throat and upper airway, which then resembles the effects encountered during a very deep sleep (REM stage). In addition, some surgical procedures that require the patient to be flat on their back, typically aren't positions that untreated patients with sleep apnea favor or breathe better in, during sleep.

Local anesthesia, by itself, will generally not affect an apnea patient's breathing. However, if a sleep apnea patient does receive a relaxant medication prior to or during the local anesthesia, then there could be an increased risk of abnormal breathing that would benefit by the use of CPAP.

General anesthesia always requires an increased vigilance in any patient with sleep apnea. The induction of sleep apnea patients with anesthesia can require a rapid intubation to maintain the upper airway during the initiation of any surgery.

So, if you are contemplating any procedures or surgeries, it’s your responsibility to inform your entire healthcare team. Don’t forget the dentist!

The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Contact your physician or health care provider when you have health related questions. Never disregard or delay medical advice because of information you have obtained on this site.