What Is Anesthesia Awareness?
Anesthesia plays a crucial role in modern medicine as it allows medical professionals to perform important and life-saving medical procedures that a patient wouldn’t be able to endure without anesthetic. Open-body surgeries, resetting broken bones, treating traumatic brain injuries, cosmetic surgery, dental surgery, and countless other medical procedures require anesthesia. Three main types of anesthesia exist:
- Local anesthesia – works on only a small portion of the body. A physician will typically administer local anesthetic with a syringe injection.
- Regional anesthesia – affects a larger portion of the body than local anesthetic. This may require a spinal injection.
- General anesthesia – renders a patient totally unconscious. This type of anesthesia is necessary for procedures that would be too painful for a conscious patient.
When a patient is under the effects of general anesthesia, proper monitoring is essential. Failure to notice changes in a patient’s vital signs, poor preoperative advice, or dosage errors may result in a rare condition known as anesthesia awareness. This condition may also result from the influence of “twilight” intravenous anesthesia that does not render a patient completely unconscious or epidurals and other forms of regional anesthesia.
Dangers of Anesthesia Awareness
Anesthesia awareness essentially describes waking up during surgery, but the reality of this condition is much more severe than this may sound at first. General anesthesia can make a patient fall unconscious and will decrease pain sensations. During anesthesia awareness, a patient may regain consciousness and some sensation, but the anesthesia makes it impossible to move or cry out for help. The patient is stuck on the operating table, aware of the ongoing procedure but is unable to ask for help.
Luckily, patients who wake up during surgery rarely regain pain sensations in addition to the awareness, but the sight of a patient’s own blood and body parts on the operating table can be extremely jarring and upsetting.
How Does Anesthesia Awareness Happen?
There are many reasons a patient could experience anesthesia awareness. If the anesthesiologist administered an incorrect dose, the patient may not remain fully unconscious for an entire procedure. Anesthesiologists must also carefully monitor patients’ vital signs to look for any indications that the anesthetic has stopped working or the patient is in distress.
Poor preoperative advice or patient failure to follow preoperative instructions may also lead to this condition. For example, many gastrointestinal procedures require patients to fast for several hours to several days prior to these procedures. If a patient fails to follow these instructions and does not inform the medical staff presiding over his or her procedure, the food in his or her stomach could interfere with the anesthesia. Failing to account for interactions with a patient’s existing prescriptions or drug allergies may also result in anesthesia awareness.
Long-Term Effects of Anesthesia Awareness
A minority of the people who experience anesthesia awareness develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Seeing the environment of an operating table while on the table can be an extremely disturbing experience, and the drugs in a patient’s system can exacerbate the impact of realizing what is happening. People who experience PTSD often have nightmares and flashbacks about the traumatic event they experienced and may develop symptoms including anxiety, depression, irritability, restlessness, and personality changes.
Since anesthesia awareness happens in only one or two out of every 1,000 surgeries, it’s impossible to predict whether you are at risk of experiencing it. You can do a few things to limit the chances of waking up during surgery, however. Follow your doctor’s preoperative instructions very carefully and ask for clarification for anything you do not fully understand. If you experience trauma from anesthesia awareness, you should reach out to a reliable Philadelphia anesthesia error attorney to determine whether negligence caused you to wake up during your surgery.