According to two studies presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, sleep apnea can significantly increase postoperative surgical risks. While the studies are in agreement about the increased risk related to undiagnosed sleep apnea , the authors are mixed about the efficacy of early diagnosis and potential treatment with CPAP.

Heart, Lung, and ICU Risks

These two studies were conducted independently. One was conducted at Western Reserve Health Education and the other at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

In the Western Reserve study, researchers looked at the rate of atrial fibrillation experienced by more than 200 patients who received open-heart bypass surgery from 2013 to 2015. They divided patients up into three categories: diagnosed with sleep apnea and receiving treatment (15%), undiagnosed but high risk for sleep apnea (20%), and undiagnosed but with low sleep apnea risk (65%).

They found that those with high risk for sleep apnea were much more likely to develop atrial fibrillation. Nearly 70% of high-risk patients developed atrial fibrillation, compared to just 41% of those in the low-risk and treated groups.

In the Ford Hospital study, researchers looked at 90 patients, 40 who were at high risk for sleep apnea but undiagnosed, and 50 who were diagnosed with sleep apnea and getting treatment. They evaluated many types of complications, such as breathing problems, heart problems, and other serious complications that might land patients in an intensive care unit (ICU). The study found that those at high risk for undiagnosed sleep apnea were at a significantly higher risk for developing venous thromboembolism, when a blood clot develops in the vein, then travels to the heart and lungs.

Can CPAP Help?

However, researchers were divided about what we should understand about sleep apnea and post-op risks. The authors of the first study point to it as evidence that CPAP works to reduce complications. The authors of the second study, however, were not as convinced about the value of CPAP.

They pointed to a study showing that CPAP was ineffective at reducing heart risks for a large number of people.

The truth is that both researchers are right. CPAP can be the best of sleep apnea treatments or the worst. When it’s used, CPAP is a great sleep apnea treatment. But when it’s not, it doesn’t help.

If you have sleep apnea, the right treatment can definitely reduce your risks, but that treatment may not be CPAP. You may benefit more from oral appliance therapy.

If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea and want to talk to an Omaha sleep dentist about your treatment options, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.