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Side Effects of Anesthesia

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

It’s no secret that anesthesia is an incredibly important part of the medical process.

Making sure your pain is limited, reduced or, in some cases, completely gone is what makes plenty of vital medical procedures possible. There’s a reason why anesthesia is used in a ton of the major surgeries that take place every year, and anesthesiologists perform needed duties throughout all parts of the medical world.

With that said, there’s a reason anesthesiologists undergo more than a decade of

training. Anesthesia is an inherently dangerous business. Although it’s made nearly completely safe by the level of expertise among all anesthesiologists, there are a number of common mistakes that doctors can make and need to have the utmost care to avoid. We don’t write any of this to frighten you, though: don’t forget that anesthesiologists know about all of these mess- ups and are complete professionals. So, let’s check out the most common anesthesia errors, and what we do to avoid them.

The first, and most deadly, error that anesthesiologists could possibly make is giving too

much anesthesia. This can be a tough one, as we want to be sure that you’re happily numbed, sedated or asleep, but going too far overboard can cause serious complications. Too much anesthesia can slow the body and its functions down by a dangerous amount, causing damage to several possible organs, including but not limited to the brain and the heart. For the record, you definitely don’t want damage to those areas.

Anesthesiologists are quite skilled at making sure you get the right amount of the good

stuff, but just know that it’s a complicated science. There would never be a risk of using too much if everyone just took the same amount of anesthesia, but unfortunately this isn’t the case. How much you get can drastically change depending on who you are or what procedure you’re undergoing. Age, weight and existing health conditions all have an effect. To counter these changing factors, anesthesiologists carefully assess your health before the procedure, as well as during. Your vitals are monitored non-stop during application of anesthesia, and it’s incredibly rare that anything will slip past the doctors. The amount of the drug that you’re getting can be adjusted on the fly, meaning you don’t have to worry about a miscalculation before the surgery being irreversible during. So, while it’s quite involved, anesthesiologists have your back.

Another common mistake, and you may have already guessed this, is to administer too

little anesthesia. While this isn’t quite as likely as TV might have you imagining, it’s still possible. If you’re given too little, it’s possible you can be aware of what’s going on but unable to actually communicate that you’re awake. The other health issues associated with anesthesia are also possible here, like organ damage, but also some milder symptoms like tinnitus, confusion or blurred vision.

Avoiding not administering enough anesthesia is pretty much done with the same

strategies as dealing with too much. The pre-operation screening and planning with your

anesthesiologist is hugely important in avoiding this, but once again, your vitals are monitored so intensely that you really don’t have a ton to worry about. Yeah, it’s not unheard of for someone to wake up and begin to become aware of what’s going on, but it’s likely your anesthesiologist will be aware of it before you are. They’ll see any slight spikes in certain vitals like blood pressure of heart rate and immediately know that something has changed. You’ll likely still be sedated enough that you won’t realize it’s happened before they give you the proper amount of the drug.

These two common errors bring up one big point that should be hammered home:

patients need to be completely open and honest with their anesthesiologists. While a good doctor will work with any problems or histories you have, they may run into issues if you are keeping things from them. In order to make their job easier (as well as your surgery as safe as possible), it’s absolutely critical that you don’t leave anything out. Letting your anesthesiologist in on your medical history will have them prepare a perfect plan for you.

That point brings us to our next two most common errors in anesthesiology. The first is

when a doctor administers anesthesia that doesn’t interact well with any drugs that the patient might be taking. The second is similar: it’s when a doctor administers anesthesia that the patient is allergic too. These are pretty scary situations, as the anesthesiologist might not be 100% prepared for what’s going on. This is especially true for the first case, as there are so many different drugs out there that the doctor may or may not know how to handle it.

Not to sound like a broken record, but the lesson here is obvious. Be transparent! These

errors can be completely avoided if you let your doctor know about all your drug allergies and current medications ahead of time. If you’re concerned you have an anesthesia allergy but don’t know about it, numbers suggest you don’t need to worry too hard. 1 in every 10,000 people who receive anesthesia end up with an allergic reaction, and most of those are pretty mild cases that just result in rashes or irritation of some kind. But still, if you already know about it, definitely make sure the doctor knows too.

There are a couple other common errors, but they’re the kind of human errors you would

expect in pretty much any profession. They include improper or insufficient monitoring of a patient and not giving the clearest instructions to patients. Oftentimes, experiences

anesthesiologists that know what they’re doing won’t have any problems in these areas. If

you’re still worried, take solace in the fact that death from anesthesia is incredibly rare. Even if a doctor makes one of these mistakes, it’s usually not a very big deal at all. Have faith in anesthesiology and those who practice it, because they’re really the best around.


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