In most cases, anesthesia works as it is intended to but there some people who are at a higher risk of complications do to their age, physical conditions, allergies, and lifestyle habits. Those with the following habits and medical conditions are at a greater risk of having problems when they need to be given anesthesia for an operation.
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart, Lung or Kidney Diseases
- Heavy Alcohol Use
- Medications that increase bleeding, including aspirin
- Drug allergies
- Sleep Apnea
- History of problems with anesthesia
It is most common for older adults to suffer from anesthesia errors, and experience various serious medical problems due to the anesthesia. These problems can range from temporary mental confusion and may be as serious as infections in the lungs, strokes, heart attacks, and even death.
While confusion for a few hours after an operation using general anesthesia is usually not cause for concern, It is important that older adults, particularly those over the age of 60 be monitored with extra care. An article in Scientific American reports on a woman who had surgery at the age of 81. This woman had no serious cognitive issues before the surgery, and was an active professor at a top university at the time. Her general fog seemed to fade a few hours after the operation, but later in the night she experienced hallucinations of the hospital being on fire. The next day, everything seemed normal again,
Her confusion went beyond “brain fog” — she was experiencing postoperative delirium, a condition characterized by hallucinations, speaking nonsensically, and the inability to respond to basic questions. Some suspicion of these types of problems have been present in the medical community since the 1980s, but the concern was largely passed off as being a reaction to the stress of the surgery or as a hint to the beginnings of dementia. In recent years, however, studies have revealed that the level of anesthesia is likely a major factor. In some cases the adverse cognitive effects have lasted for several months, or even years.
Anesthesia Error Awareness
The problems of anesthesia error awareness are in a class by themselves, and are prompted by being awake during part of a surgical procedure when they should be unconscious. Since general anethesia is also accompanied by muscle relaxants, patients are unable to move, speak, or communicate their consciousness to medical staff. In most cases, they still have physical pain relief, but not always. Pain can be very severe and those who experience anesthesia awareness often exhibit long term mental health issues similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.
This is more likely to occur when the decision to operate is made quickly such as emergency situation or if the person is having a cesarean operation. Those who have existing heart and lung issues, drink alcohol daily, or are depressed carry a bigger chance of experiencing some level of anesthesia awareness.
Miscalculations by the anesthesiologist can also play a role in anesthesia errors. Sometimes they will administer a lower dose than what is needed, or they may fail to adequately monitor a patient’s anesthesia levels throughout a procedure and do not alert the surgical team to potential problems.
Preventing Anesthesia Problems
Whenever possible, those who are going to have surgery that requires general anesthesia should take the time to be extra thorough about any medical conditions they have, medications and supplements they take, allergies, and their personal or family history of adverse anesthesia reactions. Depending on their concerns, they may want to ask about alternatives to going completely “under” during an operation or ask for extra monitoring.
Many patients will ask to meet their anesthesiology team to express concerns directly. They also take advantage of every possible opportunity to express their concerns to anyone involved in the operation.
Aside from getting medical staff to listen to them, patients also need to follow any pre-op instructions regarding their diet or medication in order to reduce the possibility of problems.
Surgery is always serious business, and it is important that patients are monitored throughout their procedure and that everyone involved pays attention to details in order to avoid errors and injuries to the patient. If you or a loved one has experienced lasting problems after a surgery where anesthesia errors occurred, contact Davis Levin Livingston Attorneys at Law for a case evaluation.