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What are the Most Common General Anesthesia Risks?

General anesthesia is widely used and generally safe, but it does carry risks such as allergic reactions, breathing issues, and postoperative confusion. These complications can vary based on individual health and procedure type. Understanding these risks is crucial for informed consent. How might your personal health profile influence anesthesia safety? Continue reading to arm yourself with essential knowledge for your next surgery.
Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

General anesthesia risks include anesthesia awareness, which is a condition where a person prematurely wakes up. Administering certain types of inhalation anesthetics can cause organ damage. The most severe of the general anesthesia risks, however, is death.

The chances of experiencing general anesthesia risks are generally considered low, although they do exist. To determine the exact chances, each risk must be assessed individually. In many cases, there still are not solid verifiable statistics. There are several factors believed to increase the chances of general anesthesia risks. These include obesity, drug allergies, and taking medication that increases bleeding.

A patient being given inhalational anaesthetic.
A patient being given inhalational anaesthetic.

Each year in the United States (US) alone, it is estimated that tens of thousands of individuals prematurely wake up from the effects of general anesthesia. When this happens, the individual is generally still paralyzed but is aware. During this time, a patient may experience extreme pain, which has been noted to result in long-term psychological damage.

Inhalation anesthesia can be toxic to certain organs. For example, halothane poses a risk to the liver. The use of sevoflurane can result in damage of the kidneys.

Lung infections may develop as a result of procedures that involve general anesthesia.
Lung infections may develop as a result of procedures that involve general anesthesia.

Lung infections may develop as a result of procedures that involve general anesthesia. This is generally a risk if people eat or drink too close to the time of their procedures. Vomiting can occur, but due to the effects of the anesthesia, a patient in this condition does not have normal throat reflexes that would allow her to cough or gag. The food or beverage may, therefore, be inhaled into the respiratory tract causing infection. This condition is known as aspiration.

Obesity and poor overall health may increase a person's chances of problems with anesthesia.
Obesity and poor overall health may increase a person's chances of problems with anesthesia.

Allergic reactions are included on the list of general anesthesia risks. In many cases, when a person is allergic to these drugs, a connection can be drawn between the incident and the medical history of the patient's family. General anesthesia affects blood pressure and as a result it may also cause patients to suffer from mental confusion, strokes, and heart attacks.

Most anesthesia machines include manual ventilation bags as a safety feature in case of a mechanical failure.
Most anesthesia machines include manual ventilation bags as a safety feature in case of a mechanical failure.

The most severe of the general anesthesia risks is death. In some cases, when a person dies while under the effects of general anesthesia it is difficult to determine if the cause was a complication from the procedure or the general anesthesia. One potentially fatal condition that is known to develop from the use of general anesthesia is malignant hyperthermia. This is a genetic disorder, which can be triggered by inhalation anesthetics, that causes skeletal tissue to decompose.

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Discussion Comments

John57

@myharley - I had a general surgeon who didn't take out my gallbladder because she didn't want to put me through the risk of an anesthesia procedure.

I had several tests done and they were all inconclusive. She was reluctant to put me through surgery, and the potential side effects of anesthesia if she wasn't absolutely positive the surgery needed to be done.

One of the main general anesthesia side effects I have had in the past is nausea. It seems to take a long time for this to get completely out of my system. There are also risks of general anesthesia in children.

When my daughter had to have her tonsils out, they went through all of the potential risks and side effects with us. Fortunately she bounced back really fast and didn't have any problems at all.

myharley

I personally don't know anyone who died as a result of anesthesia, but know it happens more frequently than what we realize.

One of my good college friends married a man who lost his first wife like this. She was a young woman with a small child, and went in for a minor surgery, and she never woke up. Her husband was told it was from anesthesia complications.

I don't know any other details, other than he did end up getting a large settlement once it was all said and done.

Anytime anybody in my family has to go through surgery, I am always relieved when they are in recovery and start waking up. I realize there is no way you can perform a surgery without general anesthetic risks, but it can be pretty scary when you really think about it.

andee

I know there are always risks associated with anesthesia, but I think there are better types of anesthesia than there were years ago.

When I had surgery a long time ago for a ruptured appendix, I remember taking a long time to get over the effects of the anesthesia.

A few months ago, I had surgery to remove some polyps, and I was up and walking around a short time after my surgery.

It probably made a difference because it was an outpatient surgery. When I was walking down the hall, the nurse told me they have made a lot of improvements recently and most people don't take nearly as long to come out of it as they used to.

I am just thankful for the modern medical advancements of anesthesia. I cringe when I think of what people went through before they used this, or if they used something that couldn't be monitored very easily.

LisaLou

I have had a couple minor surgeries where I was given anesthesia, but I can't imagine what it would be like if I woke up before the surgery was over.

I have a very low pain tolerance, and am one of those people who don't want to know anything that is going on if I am having any kind of procedure done.

If this was a long, complicated surgery, I can understand how this could cause psychological problems. For me, this would be like having one of my worst nightmares.

Before each of my surgeries, I have always signed papers acknowledging I am aware of the risks of general anesthesia, but I don't ever remember being told about anesthesia awareness.

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    • A patient being given inhalational anaesthetic.
      By: reflektastudios
      A patient being given inhalational anaesthetic.
    • Lung infections may develop as a result of procedures that involve general anesthesia.
      By: evok20
      Lung infections may develop as a result of procedures that involve general anesthesia.
    • Obesity and poor overall health may increase a person's chances of problems with anesthesia.
      By: JanMika
      Obesity and poor overall health may increase a person's chances of problems with anesthesia.
    • Most anesthesia machines include manual ventilation bags as a safety feature in case of a mechanical failure.
      By: uwimages
      Most anesthesia machines include manual ventilation bags as a safety feature in case of a mechanical failure.
    • Patients who receive general anesthesia during an operation are carefully monitored.
      By: fivepointsix
      Patients who receive general anesthesia during an operation are carefully monitored.
    • General anesthesia may cause some patients to suffer from heart attacks.
      By: milan2099
      General anesthesia may cause some patients to suffer from heart attacks.
    • It is estimated that tens of thousands of individuals in the U.S. wake up prematurely from the effects of general anesthesia each year.
      By: olly
      It is estimated that tens of thousands of individuals in the U.S. wake up prematurely from the effects of general anesthesia each year.