Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care: School of Medicine: University of California, Irvine

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Health Facts

Special Needs - Sleep Apnea

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that often goes undiagnosed. It is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few second to minutes. They often occur 5 to 30 times or more per hour. Typically, normal breathing will start again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. Most people who have sleep apnea don’t know they have it because it only occurs during sleep. A family member and/or bed partner may first notice the sign of sleep apnea.

How can anesthesia impact a person with sleep apnea?

When a patient with sleep apnea receives sedation, it causes some relaxation of the musculature of the pharynx and throat that can cause obstruction. Patients with sleep apnea tend to be more sensitive to what would otherwise be non-obstructive doses of drugs. Therefore, it is important to let your anesthesiologist know that you have obstructive sleep apnea. If you are wearing CPAP or BIPAP during your sleep please make sure bring them in when you come for surgery.