Risks Associated With Anaesthesia
Anaesthesia practice in Australia is amongst the safest in the world. Despite this, it is not without risk. Thankfully serious complications under anaesthesia are rare.
Some patients may be at an increased risk because of their state of general wellbeing. Patients who suffer from heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, obesity, advanced age or who are undergoing complex or emergent surgery are at higher risk, and therefore should discuss this in detail with their medical team.
Below we discuss some risks related to anaesthesia care. The list is not exhaustive and we ask that you refer to the patient information sections on the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists website or the Australian Society of Anaesthetists website for further information.
Sore throat occurs in 20 to 40% of patients requiring a breathing tube for their procedure. A sore throat usually gets better over a few days, if however this pain persists, please inform your Anaesthetist.
Nausea and vomiting
Post-operative nausea and vomiting occurs in 20 to 30% of patients having a general anaesthetic. It is usually a temporary issue which responds well to medication. Patients who have experienced post-operative nausea and vomiting previously are at heightened risk and should inform the Anaesthetist.
Dental damage occurs in about 1% of general anaesthetics, and is more common in patients who have pre-existing dental damage or dental caps, crowns or implants. Dental damage under anaesthesia can occur when a breathing tube is placed in the mouth of the patient who has been anaesthetised, or if a patient bites down on the breathing tube during the anaesthetic.
An allergic or anaphylactic reaction to substances you are exposed to in the clinical environment can occur and can potentially be life-threatening. The incidence of anaphylaxis to anaesthetic agents is about 1 in 10,000 cases. Please ensure that you tell your Anaesthetist about any allergies that you may have.
Aspiration pneunomia may result from having an anaesthetic. The risk of aspiration is reduced by fasting appropriately in the lead up to the procedure and continuing reflux medications that have been previously prescribed.
Damage to nerve fibres following nerve blocks may occur but luckily is rare. Nerve damage may also occur from nerve compression and is more common after prolonged operation time.
Awareness under general anaesthesia is a very rare circumstance. It is prevented by the use of medications administered through the drip and also breathed in by the patient. Patients who have their procedure performed under a regional anaesthetic block, such as a spinal block for a caesarean section or a local anaesthetic and sedation technique, will be aware of their surrounding in the operating room. Nevertheless, they will be made comfortable by treatments administered by their medical team.
Blindness is a very rare complication, occurring in approximately 1 in 125,000 anaesthetics. Risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, spinal surgery and cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass.
Death whilst possible is an extremely rare event when under the care of your medical team for your procedure. Risk factors include patients who are medically unstable, emergency procedures, and advanced patient age.