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What You Need To Know About the Safety of Anesthesia

What You Need To Know About the Safety of Anesthesia
Thanks to advancements in science, technology, and the medical field, undergoing surgical operations is safer today than at any other point in history. The use of anesthesia, in particular, has created an environment in which even major procedures can be considered routine.

However, this does not mean that anesthesia is without its own risks. Every patient has the right to information regarding the safety and efficacy of a procedure, surgery, treatment plan, or medication. Benefits, drawbacks, and potential side effects of any treatment should be clearly and effectively communicated during a process known as informed consent.

If your doctor does not communicate what you need to know about the safety of anesthesia, you could be going into a procedure or surgery without a clear understanding of the potential dangers you are facing.

What Is Anesthesia?

Anesthesia refers to a variety of medications used to prevent a patient from experiencing pain or feeling anything during a variety of procedures, including surgery. Anesthesia may be classified as local, regional, or general.

Local Anesthesia

Local anesthesia is used when only a small or specific area of the body needs to be numbed. The anesthetic is typically applied directly to the area that will be receiving treatment, sometimes as a topical cream or ointment, other times as a small injection.

The numbing sensation will only affect a small area and is particularly useful for stitches, minor biopsies (such as skin biopsies), removing moles, setting broken bones, and more. Local anesthesia does not involve sedation, which means that a patient will remain conscious for the procedure.

Regional Anesthesia

Although similar to local anesthesia in its limited affect, regional anesthesia affects a larger overall area. Rather than numbing a finger or palm, regional anesthesia can be used to numb entire regions of the body, such as an arm or leg.

This is typically accomplished by injecting the medication used for the anesthesia directly into one or more nerve groups that control the area that will be undergoing treatment. There is also no sedation involved with regional anesthesia.

General Anesthesia

General anesthesia is used to induce a sleep-like state in patients. This sedation is achieved through the delivery of a combination of medications delivered through a mask or IV. While under sedation, a patient can undergo a wide range of surgical procedures without feeling pain or being awake for the operation.

When Is Anesthesia Used?

Since anesthesia is used to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering in patients undergoing medical treatments, it is effectively utilized during a wide range of procedures, including during:

  • Dental work like root canals and tooth fillings
  • The closing of deep cuts or wounds (stitches)
  • Mole removals
  • Skin biopsies
  • Closed reductions (the realignment or “setting” of a broken bone)
  • Labor and delivery (especially Cesarean sections)
  • Invasive surgical procedures

Is Anesthesia Safe?

In general, being administered anesthesia under the watchful eye of a doctor or anesthesiologist is relatively safe. But like any medical treatment, just because it is considered to be safe does not mean that it is without risks.

Possible complications associated with undergoing anesthesia (especially general anesthesia) include:

  • Nerve injury at the point of injection
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Allergic reactions
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Hypoxic brain injury
  • Aspiration pneumonitis (lung infection caused by the inhalation of saliva or gastric content)
  • Stroke
  • Hyperthermia
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death

Some patients may also experience an event known as awareness under anesthesia, which involves waking up or regaining consciousness during surgery. A patient who experiences anesthesia awareness may or may not be able to communicate what is happening or move their body. This is a highly traumatic event that can leave patients with lasting emotional scars, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other complex mental health problems.

Lowering Your Risk of Experiencing an Adverse Event

Prior to undergoing sedation, an anesthesiologist must carefully review a patient’s medical history and the procedure they will be going through to select the safest possible medications. This health care professional must also communicate side effects and risks and what a patient can do to improve their chances of having the best possible outcome.

Although every patient is different, most people can reduce their risk of adverse outcomes from the normal use of anesthesia by:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight (if the surgery is not urgent)
  • Fasting for a prescribed period before surgery (if there are no contraindicated conditions or medications)
  • Disclosing all medication and drug use

Your doctor is not trying to get you in trouble by asking about your smoking habits, alcohol consumption, or illicit drug use. These substances can all have an impact on the safety and efficacy of anesthesia. Your medical team cannot care for you properly if they are unaware of any personal habits that may increase your risk factors for certain reactions.

The Role of an Anesthesiologist During Surgery

While under general anesthesia, an anesthesiologist is responsible for the careful and continued monitoring of a patient’s important vital signs like:

  • Breathing
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure

If an anesthesiologist fails to properly monitor a patient or does not address concerning vital signs, there is the potential for that individual to suffer a completely preventable adverse medical event. Anesthesiologists must always be alert and focused throughout surgical procedures.

What if I Had a Bad Experience With Anesthesia?

Some side effects of anesthesia are simply unavoidable and do not indicate any act of negligence, malice, or recklessness by medical professionals. Feelings of nausea and prolonged drowsiness are common, as are confusion, short-term memory loss, and vomiting.

However, if you woke up during surgery, suffered a cardiac event, had an allergic reaction to a known allergen, or experienced any other number of preventable injuries, you may have been the victim of medical malpractice.

At Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco, we understand that this is likely a confusing and overwhelming point in your life. You may not be sure if what happened to you was normal, especially if what the doctor is telling you doesn’t feel right. For this reason, our law firm regularly partners with medical experts to help us determine whether our clients’ injuries could have been prevented with proper care and monitoring.

For an opportunity to learn more about your rights regarding an anesthesia error, please contact our Philadelphia office at your earliest convenience. When you do, we’ll schedule you for a completely free case evaluation to discuss your legal options and whether you might be entitled to compensation for your injuries, medical bills, lost wages, and more.

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