"We found that the risk of postoperative complications related to their heart was 50 percent higher in patients with sleep apnea compared to those without sleep apnea," Frances Chung, a researcher at the University of Toronto and study author, said in a news release.
The researchers also found that 30 percent of the patients they studied had unrecognized moderate or severe sleep apnea.
"In this study, we wanted to determine whether sleep apnea would pose a similar risk to surgical patients," Chung said.
The most common sleep breathing disorder is severe obstructive sleep apnea, which is also linked to hypertension, atrial fibrillation, diabetes cognitive impairment and stroke.
Severe sleep apnea was also linked to an 80 percent increased risk of heart injury, a 14-fold higher risk of cardiac death and a nearly 7-fold increased heart failure risk, the researchers say.
"The key takeaway here is that if patients have symptoms of sleep apnea, perhaps they should be treated before undergoing major surgery," Chung said. "Further study is needed to determine how best to prevent patients with severe sleep apnea from having a higher risk of heart complications."