Sleep Apnea and Anesthesia


Sleep apnea affects as many as 18 million Americans, and as many as 16 million don’t realize they have it. The condition can lead to health issues, such as high blood pressure, and can cause complications during surgery. You might have sleep apnea if you:

  • Are frequently tired when you wake in the morning and throughout the day
  • Have trouble staying asleep at night
  • Have been told that you snore or stop breathing during sleep
  • Wake up throughout the night or constantly turn from side to side
  • Have been told that your legs or arms jerk while you’re sleeping
  • Make abrupt snorting noises during sleep

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea which occurs when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat narrows and closes during sleep, causing you to stop breathing, which in turn wakes you up to take a breath. You may not remember waking up even though it may happen hundreds of times each night.

Anesthesia can make the condition worse, which is why it’s extremely important to let your physician anesthesiologist know you may have obstructive sleep apnea if you’re having surgery. Anesthesia also can cause the throat to relax and close up and sleep apnea can lead to breathing problems after surgery. It also can make it more difficult to regain consciousness after surgery and take a breath.

If you have or suspect you have obstructive sleep apnea and you need surgery, be sure to discuss your symptoms with your physician anesthesiologist prior to the procedure. While complications are rare, there are precautions that can be taken before, during and after your surgery to help ensure the best outcome.