Is Perioperative Fluid and Salt Balance a Contributing Factor in Postoperative Worsening of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Anesth Analg. 2016 May;122(5):1335-9. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000001169.


An understanding of the potential mechanisms underlying recurrent upper airway collapse may help anesthesiologists better manage patients in the postoperative period. There is convincing evidence in the sleep medicine literature to suggest that a positive fluid and salt balance can worsen upper airway collapse in patients with obstructive sleep apnea through the redistribution of fluid from the legs into the neck and upper airway while supine, in a process known as "rostral fluid shift." According to this theory, during the day the volume from a fluid bolus or from fluid overload states (i.e., heart failure and chronic kidney disease) accumulates in the legs due to gravity, and when a person lies supine at night, the fluid shifts rostrally to the neck, also owing to gravity. The fluid in the neck can increase the extraluminal pressure around the upper airways, causing the upper airways to narrow and predisposing to upper airway collapse. Similarly, surgical patients also incur large fluid and salt balance shifts, and when recovered supine, this may promote fluid redistribution to the neck and upper airways. In this commentary, we summarize the sleep medicine literature on the impact of fluid and salt balance on obstructive sleep apnea severity and discuss the potential anesthetic implications of excessive fluid and salt volume on worsening sleep apnea.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Progression
  • Fluid Shifts*
  • Fluid Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Patient Positioning
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / complications*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Supine Position
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / adverse effects*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance*
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance / diagnosis
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance / etiology*
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance / physiopathology