Sleep Apnea and Surgical Deaths

There are still many mysteries surrounding the dangers of sleep apnea, but we are working hard to understand them. But it’s not always easy to collect all the relevant data. Researchers hope that the establishment of a new registry for sleep apnea-related surgical deaths will help isolate the causes that increase surgical risk, but so far they haven’t been getting enough data.

two surgeons in operating room

Dangerous and Expensive Cases

Researchers associated with the Society of Anesthesia and Sleep Medicine (SASM) and the Anesthesia Closed Claims Project have established a registry for cases where patients unexpectedly died related to surgery, called perioperative death, and that may have been related to obstructive sleep apnea. The hope is that they will be able to identify patterns that put people at risk from adverse outcomes of sleep apnea and come up with improved procedures that will save lives. Unfortunately, researchers aren’t getting enough cases reported to make their analysis.

Most studies show that there is an increased risk of surgical complications related to sleep apnea, with some studies showing as much as a tenfold increase in complication risks for the patient. Most of the time, this is related to certain types of anesthetics, and, researchers suspect, most of the cases turn out to be preventable. People most often suffer complications after having been removed from artificial respiration, when they may suffer low oxygen levels and die. Preliminary analysis suggests that many of these deaths could have been stopped just by closer monitoring of patients, and, of course, knowing which patients had sleep apnea and which didn’t.

Researchers point out that because these cases are preventable, they often end up being expensive for hospitals. When a family files a medical malpractice lawsuit for these types of death, the average payout is $1.5 million, and when the case involved anoxic brain injury (brain damage caused by low oxygen levels) payouts averaged $4 million per case. And, of course, what the families lost is priceless.

Researchers are making a new call for doctors to register cases that fit the following criteria:

  • Patient 18 years or older
  • Event happened 1993 or later
  • Patient was diagnosed or suspected of having sleep apnea (either before or after the event)
  • Event included sleep-apnea-related:
    • Unanticipated death
    • Brain injury
    • Respiratory distress and related transfer to ICU
    • Respiratory arrest
    • Code Blue or advanced cardiovascular life support protocol

We hope that doctors will report these cases and improve our understanding of how best adverse events can be prevented.

Protect Yourself from Complications

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from complications is to get a positive diagnosis of sleep apnea before surgery. Then you can talk to doctors and nurses about your risks and how they will be managed. Getting treatment can also help reduce your risks, especially if you have a sleep apnea treatment you feel comfortable using daily.

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea and want to learn more, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep doctor at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.