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Scheduled for Surgery? Here’s Why You Need Sleep Apnea Screening

May. 11, 2015 Cleveland Clinic

Imagine what it would be like if you stopped breathing multiple times during the day. You wouldn’t think twice about calling a doctor. But people with sleep apnea stop breathing many times every night, and they may not even know it.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder that occurs when breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea can stop breathing up to hundreds of times each night while sleeping.

“Sleep apnea may be more common than you think because it often goes undiagnosed,” says sleep disorder specialist Silvia Neme-Mercante, MD. “It affects at least 9 percent of women and 24 percent of men. It’s estimated that around 80 percent of patients with obstructive sleep apnea, which is the most common form of sleep apnea, are undiagnosed.”

Screening for sleep apnea before surgery

Sleep apnea is a special concern for people who are about to have surgery. That’s why it’s important for all surgical patients to be pre-screened for sleep apnea.

“Patients with sleep apnea who are undergoing any type of surgery are at an increased risk for developing respiratory and cardiovascular complications in the period following the surgery,” says Dr. Neme-Mercante.

Complications can include irregular heart rhythms, oxygen deficiency, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attack and even death.

Screening patients prior to surgery is be very simple. Patients fill out a sleep apnea questionnaire, which helps physicians determine who is at high risk for sleep apnea. To avoid potentially dangerous complications after surgery, it’s important that you answer the questions honestly.

Depending on your responses, you may or may not also need to do a sleep study. “Sleep apnea is diagnosed based on sleep history and an overnight sleep study test called a polysomnogram,” Dr. Neme-Mercante says. “The test could be performed in a sleep laboratory under the supervision of a trained technologist, or in some cases it can be done at home.”

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