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What are the risks associated with anesthesia?

If your doctor recently recommended that you undergo surgery for health reasons, it is important that you fully understand the risks associated with the procedure. Though it may not cross your mind to concern yourself with the anesthesia portion of the process, you should.

Thanks to advances in science, both surgery and anesthesia are safer than ever. However, that does not mean either is without its risks. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, anesthesia is inherently risky, and the possibility always exists that something could go wrong. By discussing these risks with your surgical team ahead of time, and by identifying your risk factors, you can minimize your chances of experiencing complications.

Possible consequences of anesthesia

Though very safe, general anesthesia is the most likely to result in complications. The most common side effects are minor and short-lived and may include chills, confusion, nausea and vomiting. However, some patients are at risk of developing more severe complications, such as the following:

  • Malignant hyperthermia: Malignant hypothermia is an inherited and potentially fatal condition that causes individuals to develop muscle contractions and fever during surgery and in response to anesthesia.
  • Postoperative delirium: Otherwise known as cognitive dysfunction, postoperative delirium is a condition that causes long-term learning and memory issues post-surgery.
  • Breathing issues: In patients who live with sleep apnea, anesthesia may cause the throat to close during surgery, thereby causing them to stop breathing. If a patient experiences breathing troubles during surgery, he or she may struggle to regain consciousness post-surgery.

These risks typically affect persons with certain risk factors, which is why it is crucial that you are honest with your doctor upfront regarding any preexisting or former medical conditions.

Risk factors for poor anesthesia outcomes

You have a much greater risk of experiencing anesthesia complications if you live with certain health conditions or have experienced certain issues in the past. Examples of conditions and issues that put you at risk include diabetes; heart disease; a history of adverse reactions to anesthesia; kidney issues; obesity; high blood pressure; stroke; obstructive sleep apnea; lung conditions; and neurological disorders. Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking can also increase your risk of developing anesthesia complications.

Your doctor should inform you about the possible complications of anesthesia before you agree to undergo any surgical procedure. He or she should then work with you to identify risk factors to pass along to your surgical team. If your doctor fails to do his or her due diligence and you suffer harm as a result, you may have a medical malpractice claim.