What are the Dangers of Anesthesia?

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There are many dangers of anesthesia, but risks are often outweighed by significant benefits. All forms of anesthesia, even local types, can carry risk of allergic reaction. Further, anesthesia is essentially exposing the body to controlled levels of toxic chemicals in order to either stop pain temporarily or to induce a semi-conscious or unconscious state. Despite the risks, anesthesia, pain relief, or conditions that threaten life or quality of life tend to be worth the risk.

Because most people who administer anesthesia are trained specifically in anesthesiology, complications related to anesthesia have decreased. In particular, measurements of body chemistry and body functions during anesthesia administration have become very precise. Thus, if a problem occurs during administration of a drug, it is usually addressed immediately.

Problems are more likely to occur when a person who is not a trained anesthesiologist administers anesthesia. In general, it is best to request a specialist, and further to refuse doctors with dubious reputations. Most often, people have had difficulty when they attempt to have plastic surgery performed for cheap prices. A doctor who performs surgery in a "back room" may not be licensed or experienced in addressing problems that might occur during anesthesia.


Certain facts about the dangers of anesthesia are well known. In general, those who are very ill, extremely young, or elderly have increased risks of anesthesia related deaths, generally as a result of general anesthesia, which induces unconsciousness. Further, certain conditions may increase the risks of anesthesia. Those with cardiac conditions, brain injury, or dysfunction of the liver may be at greater risk during surgery than those who are healthy.

The most common risk of anesthesia is allergic reaction to one of the medications used. This again is usually noted and addressed immediately, since most patients undergoing general anesthesia are constantly monitored. Those who have an allergic reaction to a local anesthetic are likely to react fairly immediately. Dentists and doctors who use local anesthetics do have emergency supplies on hand should an allergic reaction occur.

Dangers of anesthesia to unborn children have also been well established. Women used to routinely be anesthetized during childbirth, but this is seldom the case now, even during cesarean sections. Instead women who must deliver via cesarean section tend to have an epidural, which blocks sensation from the abdomen downward. This minimizes anesthesia exposure to the baby.

Studies in 2003 show that drugs used in general anesthesia kill brain cells in developing rats and mice. Though these studies require follow-up with human populations, some have theorized that the risks of anesthesia used in children may be greater than previously estimated. One might not only risk death but also interference in brain development, and perhaps long term memory issues or learning disabilities.

It has also been suggested that one of the possible risks of anesthesia might be damage the brain of healthy adults. Could anesthesia cause brain damage significant enough to affect memory, or to hasten conditions like Alzheimer’s disease? These are questions that have yet to be proven, and there are no statistics which can ultimately assess risk. Again, benefits of surgery generally outweigh the possible dangers of anesthesia.

This is particularly the case with children. Few children have elective surgeries. They often require them in order to fix severe health problems. Often one risks not only the dangers of anesthesia but also the surgery itself. While surgery of any kind is not without risk, ever, only part of the danger can be attributed to anesthesia.


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Discuss this Article

Post 27

@anon73617: Especially for those prospective patients over 50, you and only you will have to live with the long term consequences of your anesthesiologist's short term care.

Those consequences include delirium (aka 'brain fog'), dementia, and one death every day. Li G, et al: Epidemiology of Anesthesia-related Mortality in the United States, 1999–2005. Anesthesiology 2009;110:759

Post 26

Are two procedures in a month bad with anesthesia?

Post 25

The dangers of anesthesia operations and procedures usually depend on the type of surgery and condition of the patient.

Post 24

Some minor proceedings should be done without anesthesia, as the negative side effects of it can overrule the negative effects of face pain without it. Both anesthesia and face pain also have positive effects (like more tranquil proceedings with anesthesia; and resilience and overpower sensation in some circumstances to face it without), for example, circumcision, tattoos, etc., especially if it is somehow ritualized. They should be done with the care of be a health trained professional doing it to avoid infections and other hazardous situations.

Post 23

People, no website is a substitute for a medical professional. If you have questions about your condition, see a doctor.

Post 22

My friend's 8 year old daughter had ear surgery and ended up going into cardiac arrest! Is this from the anesthesia, from having too much, or an allergic reaction with having NPO?

Post 21

I think one of the most common side effects (not danger, really) of general anesthesia, is nausea. Both times I've been under, I got sick afterward. The first time was when I had my wisdom teeth out, and the oral surgeon said it was probably because I'd swallowed blood. Made sense to me at the time.

The last time I was under, I had thyroid surgery and I told my anesthesiologist that I'd gotten sick before, and she really absolutely did do everything she could to help alleviate it. She gave me an anti-heartburn med in my IV and when I was in recovery, also gave me Zofran in recovery when I said I was sick. I don't remember

feeling sick right then, although I do remember feeling way too hot, which usually increases any nausea I might have.

Anyway, it was outpatient surgery, and when I got back to my room to wake up more and get dressed, I got sick. There wasn't anything to expel, since I'd been NPO for about 18 hours, but I guess my body just felt like it had to protest. But once I went through the motions, I did feel much better.

I do get severe motion sickness, though, and my anesthesiologist did say those who are prone to motion sickness are more likely to be sick after having anesthesia.

So if you get motion sickness, make sure you tell your anesthesiologist so he or she can be prepared to help you in every way.

Post 20

@anon73617: Sorry dude. Neither I nor my non-profit Goldilocks Anesthesia Foundation receive financial support from brain monitor (or drug) makers.

However, in case you missed this recent, important article in the April 11, 2011 issue of “Current Opinion in Anesthesiology.”

They conclude: “Given the trivial cost of the BIS (brain monitor) and the proven benefits demonstrated in prospective randomized studies, we consider its use justified in every general anesthetic.”

Under no circumstances should you allow your anesthesia provider to play Russian roulette with your brain. Only you, the patient, have to live with the long term consequences of your short term anesthesia care.

Post 19

I want to say to all of you who have had surgery of late: speedy recovery to you all! I am interested to know why a person with a brain injury "is at risk" if undergoing a general anesthesia for surgery. What risk are we talking about exactly? This statement about who is at risk is in the article above the comments. I have noticed with friends and family, especially my mother, who was in surgery for three hours, that she appears to have developed dementia. Her memory is impaired severely since her recovery. Unfortunately, she had to have the surgery, so it it appears to be a catch-22 situation. --b.j.

Post 18

My three year old has a bump (doctors think it is a cyst) on his face. They would like to remove it but want general anesthesia instead of local. He turned three just two months ago! Developing brain? Any suggestions or other options?

Post 16

I have an allergic reaction to anesthetics. I am not sure that surgery is even an option for me. I have a ruptured disk in my lower back. This would kill me, right?

Post 14

Our child has developmental problems. At the age of 2.8 he does not speak and shows signs of autistic spectrum (lack of attention, social skills, etc.). He was born without any notable problems via cesarean, which was planned due to his mother's severe myopia.

We started addressing his problems in January (six months ago). In March, the doctors at one clinic checked his hearing under anesthesia. Results turned out to be uninterpretable. He can definitely can hear, but the results showed a possibility of not hearing below 30Db.

Now they sent us to another, bigger clinic where they will redo the procedure in two weeks. We are worried about the frequency of putting the child under anesthesia.

We need some advice. Should we cancel it or go ahead without having to worry about possible damage that the anesthesia can do to the boy.

Please help. Thank you. We live in Nantes, a small city in northwestern France.

Post 13

I am a 20-year-old male who had a maxillofacial surgery about two months ago. After the operation my balance was noticeably disoriented but slightly improving -- still doesn't feel as before.

Also since the operation, quick movements cause extreme dizziness (e.g. many stars appear if I turn or stand up quickly) though this also has greatly improved, it too is still apparent. But the most troublesome effect is my bladder. For the past two months I have had an increased need to urinate and even leakage of urine. This has not improved.

I can't help but connect these symptoms to the brain injury I experienced (a little less than) three years ago. In that case I was in a coma for

two weeks after a car accident where my head was hit on the left side causing the brain to be shaken.

I was diagnosed with a diffused axonal injury (DAI) for which an extreme loss of balance and logic also occurred but was redeveloped with training.

What should I do? Thank you for any guidance.

Post 11

Sounds suspiciously like anon49217 works for the company making this "brain monitor." He is referring to a BIS monitor and for most routine surgeries it is completely not necessary.

The most recent medical literature does not support its routine use in surgery. It is typically used in trauma and cardiac cases and in obstetric cases in which general anesthesia must be used.

Definitely ask your anesthesiologist, but don't be scared off if he or she tells you it will not be used.

Post 10

okay i just got back from the dentist and they said i need all four wisdom teeth pulled. i'm not scared about that, but the gas. i was reading about how it affects children. i am 13. am i considered a "child"?

Post 9

Questions you must ask your surgeon before surgery: Did you know anesthesia over-medication is routine without a brain monitor? A: Yes Did you know anesthesia over-medication can be avoided with a brain monitor? A: Yes Will I have a brain monitor for my surgery? A: Yes. If not, go where it is routine. Did you know propofol is an anti-oxidant? A: Yes. Will lidocaine be injected before my incision?A: Yes. Will morphine be left in my incision at the end of surgery? A: Yes How soon after surgery will I wake up? A: Within minutes. How frequent is PONV** in your practice? A: Rarely What about post op shaking? A: Rarely Brain monitor + Propofol ketamine anesthesia = ‘Goldilocks’ anesthesia ** PONV = Post Operative Nausea and Vomiting ‘Goldilocks' Anesthesia = not too much, not too little, always just the right amount

Post 8

have there been any studies to substantiate the relationship of anesthesia to accelerating dementia and alzhemiers? your statement below seems to support my mothers condition after hip surgery. It has also been suggested that one of the possible dangers of anesthesia might be risky to the brain of healthy adults. Could anesthesia cause brain damage significant enough to affect memory, or to hasten conditions like Alzheimer’s disease?

Post 7

i think i might have to have a general anesthesia and i am afraid i will not wake up.

Post 6

I am a 18 year old girl who just got anesthesia so a doctor could scope my bladder. As the day goes on I tend to feel worse and worse. I have extreme pain in my kidneys and neck. I am very confused and dizzy; my stomach is very upset. I had my gallbladder removed seven months ago and didn't have this reaction. Should I call my doctor or what could be causing this?

Post 5

How long should a patient wait to go under anesthesia after being treated twice, for bypass, surgery, and catheterization within 3 months, and what are the risks of repeated treatments?

Post 4

Can we get inflammatory reaction to anesthesia after knee arthroscopy?

Post 3

Schurch - I think it varies on the procedure, the person, and how much anesthesia was administered. But, generally anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. Some people can take longer.

Post 2

how long after surgrey does it take someone with liver damage to wake up?

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