Anesthetic Management of Narcolepsy Patients during Surgery: A Systematic Review

Sally Hu, Mandeep Singh, Jean Wong, Dennis Auckley, Shelley Hershner, Rahul Kakkar, Michael J. Thorpy, Frances Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Narcolepsy is a rare sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep paralysis, and/or hypnagogic/hypnopompic hallucinations, and in some cases cataplexy. The response to anesthetic medications and possible interactions in narcolepsy patients is unclear in the perioperative period. In this systematic review, we aim to evaluate the current evidence on the perioperative outcomes and anesthetic considerations in narcolepsy patients. METHODS: Electronic literature search of Medline, Medline in-process, Embase, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews databases, international conference proceedings, and abstracts was conducted in November 2015 according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis Protocols guideline. A total of 3757 articles were screened using a 2-stage strategy (title-abstract followed by full text). We included case studies/series, cohort studies, and randomized controlled trials of narcolepsy patients undergoing surgical procedures under anesthesia or sedation. Preoperative narcolepsy symptoms and sleep study data, anesthetic technique, and perioperative complications were extracted. Screening of articles, data extraction, and compilation were conducted by 2 independent reviewers and any conflict was resolved by the senior author. RESULTS: A total of 19 studies including 16 case reports and 3 case series were included and evaluated. The majority of these patients received general anesthesia, whereas a small percentage of patients received regional anesthesia. Reported complications of narcolepsy patients undergoing surgeries were mainly related to autonomic dysregulation, or worsening of narcolepsy symptoms intra/postoperatively. Narcolepsy symptoms worsened only in those patient populations where the preoperative medications were either discontinued or reduced (mainly in obstetric patients). In narcolepsy patients, use of depth of anesthesia monitoring and total intravenous technique may have some advantage in terms of safety profile. Several patients undergoing neurosurgery involving the hypothalamus or third or four ventricles developed new-onset narcolepsy. CONCLUSIONS: We found a paucity of prospective clinical trials in this patient population, as most of the studies were case reports or observational studies. Continuation of preoperative medications, depth of anesthesia monitoring, use of multimodal analgesia with short-acting agents and regional anesthesia techniques were associated with favorable outcomes. Obstetric patients may be at greater risk for worsening narcolepsy symptoms, possibly related to a reduction or discontinuation of medications. For neurosurgical procedures involving the hypothalamus or third and fourth ventricle, postoperative considerations should include monitoring for symptoms of narcolepsy. Future studies are needed to better define perioperative risks associated with anesthesia and surgery in this population of patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-246
Number of pages14
JournalAnesthesia and analgesia
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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