What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which a person has repetitive episodes of complete or partial upper airway blockage during sleep. These episodes can interfere with sound sleep, reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs, and cause heart rhythm irregularities.

If it is not treated, sleep apnea can result in a number of health problems, including hypertension, stroke, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), congestive heart failure, diabetes, and heart attacks. In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for job impairment, work-related accidents, and motor vehicle crashes as well as underachievement in school in children and adolescents.

Why is it important to find out if I have obstructive sleep apnea before my surgery?

Identifying patients with obstructive sleep apnea prior to surgery is a very important step in preventing postoperative complications. Patients with obstructive sleep apnea who are untreated and proceed to surgery have a higher incidence of difficult intubation (the placement of a tube down your trachea [windpipe] during surgery to open the airway to give you oxygen, medicine, or anesthesia), postoperative complications, increased intensive care admissions, and greater length of hospital stay.

What type of additional testing might be necessary before my surgery?

You will need to be seen by a sleep professional for additional assessment before you can proceed to surgery. The extent of the testing is an individual decision based on discussion and analysis with the doctor. Testing could include an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram. Polysomnography is performed in a sleep laboratory under the direct supervision of a trained technologist. During the test, a variety of body functions, such as the electrical activity of the brain, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rate, breathing patterns, air flow, and blood oxygen levels are recorded at night during sleep.

After the study is completed, the number of times breathing is impaired during sleep is tallied and the severity of sleep apnea is graded.

How or when might I know if my surgery will be delayed?

We don't want your surgery to be delayed. We understand the physical, mental, and emotional time that is required to prepare for an upcoming surgery. But we also want the best outcome for you. We want to make sure you are in physical shape to undergo the complexities of surgery. That is why we are working with you – up front – to make sure you are as prepared as possible for your upcoming surgery. We want your surgery to go as smoothly as possible. Each patient's case is unique. Based on the testing results, your doctor will let you know if your surgery date will remain as scheduled or need to be moved to a new time and date.

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