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There are a number of steps patients and care providers can take to minimize the dangers of anesthesia, and one of the most important is clear communication throughout the case. Patients have an obligation to make sure the entire care team has detailed information about their medical history so care providers can take appropriate measures to address common anesthesia risks. Doctors, anesthesiologists, and care providers must develop an appropriate protocol for a given case and monitor the patient throughout for signs of distress, which requires cooperating together to communicate about changes in the patient's condition.
From the perspective of patients, it is important to meet with an anesthesiologist before the case and go over medical history in detail for any procedure requiring regional or general anesthesia. The dangers of anesthesia are much higher when a doctor does not have very much information about the patient. With local anesthetics, a doctor will often administer the drug and should be told about any known allergies. The patient should make sure the care providers know about any history of drug reactions, all medications she is taking, and any medical issues that might complicate anesthesia like kidney failure or a history of heart disease.
In a consultation before surgery, the doctor will usually recommend some blood tests to check on organ function and look for risk factors that might complicate anesthesia. If anesthesia is simply not safe for the patient in any form, the surgery will need to wait unless it is an emergency. It may be possible to limit the dangers of anesthesia by using different anesthetics or providing extra medications to offset common anesthesia side effects like depressed heart rate, and a doctor can determine which measures are most appropriate after a pre-anesthetic consultation.
Care providers will review a patient record carefully and use this information to decide on the most appropriate anesthetic and dosing, given the dangers of anesthesia and the specifics of the case. It is important to have an accurate weight on the patient, especially for children, as anesthesia drugs can have a narrow margin for error. Anesthesia plans will also include a contingency plan for what the medical team should do if the patient experiences a medical crisis. Many of the dangers of anesthesia can be rapidly identified and addressed simply by monitoring respiration and heart rate.
Patients should follow pre-surgery directions carefully and ask for clarification if directions are unclear. They usually need to refrain from eating and drinking before surgery because of the risk of aspiration during and immediately after surgery. It may be necessary to stop taking certain medications that could react adversely with anesthesia or cause excessive bleeding. If a patient has not followed directions, he should disclose this to the surgeon so she can decide whether to wait or move forward with the surgery.
For procedures where local and regional anesthetics are used, the risks are much lower than those of general anesthesia, but they are still present. Patients should report difficulty breathing and any unpleasant sensations, because these could be signs of an allergic reaction.
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