Patients with difficult intubation may need referral to sleep clinics

Frances Chung, Balaji Yegneswaran, Francisco Herrera, Alex Shenderey, Colin M Shapiro
Anesthesia and Analgesia 2008, 107 (3): 915-20

PURPOSE: Upper airway abnormalities carry the risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and difficult tracheal intubations. Both conditions contribute to significant clinical problems and have increased perioperative morbidity and mortality. We hypothesized that patients who presented with difficult intubation would have a very high prevalence of OSA and that those with unexpected difficult intubation may require referral to sleep clinics for polysomnography (PSG).

METHODS: Patients classified as a grade 4 Cormack and Lehane on direct laryngoscopic view, and who required more than two attempts for successful endotracheal intubation, were referred to the study by consultant anesthesiologists at four hospitals. Apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) data and postoperative events were collected. Patients with AHI >5/h were considered positive for OSA. Clinical and PSG variables were compared using t-tests and chi(2) test.

RESULTS: Over a 20-mo period, 84 patients with a difficult intubation were referred into the study. Thirty-three patients agreed to participate. Sixty-six percent (22 of 33) had OSA (AHI >5/h). Of the 22 OSA patients, 10 patients (64%) had mild OSA (AHI 5-15), 6 (18%) had moderate OSA (AHI >15/h), and 6 (18%) had severe OSA (AHI >30/h). Of the 33 patients, 11 patients (33%) were recommended for continuous positive airway pressure treatment. Between the OSA group and the non-OSA group, there were significant differences in gender, neck size, and the quality of sleep, but there were no significant differences in age and body mass index.

CONCLUSIONS: Sixty-six percent of patients with unexpected difficult intubation who consented to undergo a sleep study were diagnosed with OSA by PSG. Patients with difficult intubation are at high risk for OSA and should be screened for signs and symptoms of sleep apnea. Screening for OSA should be considered by referral to a sleep clinic for PSG.

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