Sleep apnea is a problem for many, but even more do not realize they have apnea and are undiagnosed. When you consider that sleep apnea can be an increased risk for post-surgery complications, it is easy to see why many surgeons are calling for more research into the effects of sleep apnea on surgery recovery.

“There’s this huge problem out there, and really no good answer,” Dr. Stavros G. Memtsoudis, an anesthesiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, said about the issue.

Memtsoudis plans on conducting a study to learn which patients with sleep apnea are most at risk for complications after surgery, and how to best handle the care of these patients. Some studies suggest that as much as 80% of patients undergoing surgery don’t know if they have apnea or not. When they do, doctors do not tend to know whether the apnea should be treated first, or if surgery should be done as planned, despite possible apnea related risks.

Some ideas that are being considered include recommending the use of a regional anesthesia that affects only one part of the body, versus a general anesthesia that makes a patient unconscious. Before a solid recommendation can be made, the researchers will have to pinpoint risk factors, including obesity and diabetes, and what impact they might have on the outcome, as many sleep apnea patients fall into other risk factor categories, as well.

Ramie Tritt, M.D., President, Atlanta ENT