What Are the Odds of Not Waking Up From Anesthesia?

Whether it’s your first procedure or your 20th, general anesthesia is always a frightening prospect. The chances that you will never wake up again are slim. In the United States, one out of every 200,000 patients will die from complications of general anesthesia. No matter how unlikely it is, someone will end up being that one person, and that’s a scary thing to think about.

The last time I went under the knife I had some pretty serious complications, but I am still here to write this today.Understanding the reality of anesthesia complications can help quell your fears by putting your fears into perspective. Even if you do suffer some form of complication, the odds are high that you will be okay.

Why Anesthesia Is Safe

Anesthesia got its scary reputation back when the science of anesthesia wasn’t as advanced as it is now. In the sixties and seventies, one out of every 10,000-20,000 patients died from anesthesia complications. So even back then the chances of dying were roughly the same as the chances of being struck by lightning.

One of the reasons anesthesia-related deaths are much less likely today is the invention of the pulse oximeter, a device that ensures you will get enough oxygen while you are under. Anesthesiologists today also monitor for hyperthermia, which can lead to death.

How Common Are Anesthesia Complications?

It’s normal and common to have nausea and vomiting after anesthesia. It’s also common to have a headache. Other more serious complications are far less common.

Possible Complications of Anesthesia

  • Anaphylaxis
  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Peripheral nerve damage
  • Aspiration pneumonitis
  • Embolism
  • Damage to teeth
  • Sore throat and damaged larynx
  • Respiratory depression
  • Backache
  • Nerve injury
  • Brain damage
  • Hyperthermia
  • Awareness during anesthesia
  • Death

What Are the Potential Long-Term Side-Effects?

The older you are, the more likely you are to suffer the following side-effects. Long-term side-effects like these are very uncommon.

Postoperative Delirium

Patients who suffer from postoperative delirium can expect the following symptoms to last for  about a week:

Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction (POCD)

People who have had strokes, heart disease, or lung disease are at higher risk of developing postoperative cognitive dysfunction. Individuals who have Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease are also at higher risk, as are those who are over 60.

The symptoms of POCD include ongoing memory problems and cognitive impairment. This long-term symptom is believed to be caused by the surgery itself rather than the anesthesia.

How to Lessen Your Risk

You can lessen your risk of suffering from anesthesia complications by having an honest talk with your doctor about your health. Let them know if you’ve suffered from anesthesia complications in the past, your health history, and any medications you are taking. They may recommend that you lose weight or quit smoking before the procedure.

You can also lessen your risk by following your doctor’s instructions in the days before your surgery. If they tell you not to eat or drink for a specified period of time, they are telling you this for a very good reason. Eating and drinking can increase your risk of aspiration pneumonitis or asphyxiating on your own vomit.

What Should You Do if You Suffer Complications?

If you suffer from complications of anesthesia, you may want to consider getting a consultation with a medical malpractice attorney. Sometimes anesthesiologists make mistakes that can harm patients and cause lasting damage.

When someone dies because of anesthesia, it can leave a family without its sole provider, children without their mother, and a mountain of grief and debt. If you’ve been injured or someone you love has died, you may be able to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. If you are having a surgery in the near future, remember, the odds are in your favor.


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