Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and perioperative complications: a systematic review of the literature

J Clin Sleep Med. 2012 Apr 15;8(2):199-207. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.1784.


Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) is a common sleep related breathing disorder. Its prevalence is estimated to be between 2% and 25% in the general population. However, the prevalence of sleep apnea is much higher in patients undergoing elective surgery. Sedation and anesthesia have been shown to increase the upper airway collapsibility and therefore increasing the risk of having postoperative complications in these patients. Furthermore, the majority of patients with sleep apnea are undiagnosed and therefore are at risk during the perioperative period. It is important to identify these patients so that appropriate actions can be taken in a timely fashion. In this review article, we will discuss the epidemiology of sleep apnea in the surgical population. We will also discuss why these patients are at a higher risk of having postoperative complications, with the special emphasis on the role of anesthesia, opioids, sedation, and the phenomenon of REM sleep rebound. We will also review how to identify these patients preoperatively and the steps that can be taken for their perioperative management.

Keywords: Berlin Questionnaire; Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome; STOP Questionnaire; perioperative complications; postoperative complications.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Elective Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / methods
  • Humans
  • Perioperative Care
  • Perioperative Period*
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / complications*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Sleep, REM / physiology