The title basically is it. I know that obstructive sleep apnea increase the risk of anesthesia, but I haven't found any guidelines to how much that increase is, or what the level of risk becomes.

EDIT: Sorry, I didn't know I needed to show research. Here is some:

American Society of Anethesiologists says there are risks, and specifies some, but no quantitative results.

Den Herder et al details some risks and gives advice to anesthesiologists, but, again, no quantitative results.

There are other sites and articles too, with similar things.

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    I think the question is an interesting one, but you have not presented any evidence of research, which is a requirement on this site (and a number of others in the network). If you haven't had results searching, what were your search terms? Did you try Google Scholar? Thanks. Commented May 11 at 13:42
  • @anongoodnurse I know you don't know me, and I did see your apologies at the end. I am not a doctor (and I don't play one on TV) but I do have a PhD in psychometrics and was a statistical consultant for a few decades, with many MD clients. I am very active on Crossvalidated (stats site). I know enough to know that reading a bit here and there doesn't make me an expert. (cont on next comment since Ii hate how you can't make paragraphs in comments).
    – Peter Flom
    Commented May 12 at 9:47
  • What I thought I might get, here, is some expert in anesthesiology who would know the literature well and be able to either a) Summarize it or b) Point me to some sort of review article or something like that.
    – Peter Flom
    Commented May 12 at 9:50
  • Ah, I see. Unfortunately, we don't have an anesthesiologist among our users, but we have MDs, PhDs, and many professionals in medical fields. No, reading a bit here and there doesn't make an expert. But reading the literature is the only real way to get an unbiased answer, and you have a solid skill to evaluate the papers you read. Someone may be able to help you, and I'm sure there are review papers out there. (Also, statistics isn't my forté either, so I might have been grateful to have an expert to consult.) Commented May 12 at 12:56
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    Using review article sleep apnea risks anesthesia in Google Scholar yielded a good number of review articles. These two seem fairly comprehensive, but no hard numbers. A risk is just a risk. Commented May 12 at 13:22

1 Answer 1


It's a good question and a difficult one to give an absolute answer to. The baseline risk of a general anaesthetic is fairly low but will vary depending on multiple factors relating to the patient and the operation being undertaken - a planned carpal tunnel release in a healthy 20 year old is a very different prospect to an emergency aneurysm repair in an obese, diabetic 80 year old who is an active smoker with a recent myocardial infarction.

Data is further complicated by the fact that many people have undiagnosed OSA, making it tricky to ensure groups can be controlled and compared.

The baseline incident rate and the impact of OSA will also depend on what risk you are considering - desaturation is relatively common but if identified and treated promptly will not cause long term issues, whereas death from an anaesthetic is extremely rare.

However, there are some studies out there which make attempt at comparisons. A systematic review and meta-analysis for example. They show significant variability in findings between studies but are strongly suggestive that OSA is associated with an increase in risk of desaturation, cardiac events, need for admission to an intensive care unit, and hospital length of stay. The overall complication rate appears to increase by somewhere in the range of 5-20% (depending on what is included and which study is considered) with an absolute increased likelihood of admission to intensive care of around 3-5%.

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