The use of anesthesia across America's operating rooms is common–place. The administration of anesthesia allows physicians to place a patient into an unconscious or semi–conscious state so that a surgical procedure can take place without exposing the patient to pain. As with most medical procedures, however, serious mistakes can occur during the administration of anesthesia. Because anesthesia is designed to "affect" the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) during a surgery, when errors occur, the results can be devastating to the patient, including but not limited to: loss of motor function (walking, moving arms/legs); paralysis; nerve damage, loss of vision, brain damage, and even death. In today's highly specialized medical community, the administration of anesthesia is no longer only occurring in hospitals, but rather, routinely takes place in physician's offices, outpatient centers, dental offices or cosmetic surgery clinics, to name a few. This frequency increases the chances of potential errors. Some common types of anesthesia errors include: failure to monitor the condition/vital signs of a patient who has been placed under anesthetic, improper placement of breathing tubes that causes physical injury to throat or lungs; improper placement of breathing tubes that prevents an adequate flow of oxygen to the brain, resulting in brain damage; inadequate anesthetic levels that cause a patient to awaken during surgery and/or feel conscious pain; improper positioning of a patient under anesthetic that results in disabling nerve or muscle injuries; allergic reactions to anesthetic drugs; and the use of improperly functioning anesthetic equipment.
Generally speaking, most people don't experience problems with general anesthesia during surgical procedures. Risk factors that can increase a patient's risk of developing a complication include, but are not limited to: co-morbidities involving your heart, lungs or kidneys; medications that increase bleeding like aspirin or coumadin, heavy alcohol use, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking, sleep apnea, and of course, a prior history of adverse reaction to anesthesia. Adverse reactions to anesthesia include temporary paralysis, stroke, infection of lungs, heart attacks and death. Recent studies suggest that the incidence of complications stemming from the administration of anesthesia is roughly 1-2/1000.
As a result of these complications, anesthesiologists must fully inform patients of the possible complications associated with anesthesia. Patients, in turn, should inform the anesthesiologist of any drugs they are taking and fully inform him of your medical history including allergies, health conditions and history with anesthesia. Prior to surgery, you may be asked to stop taking medications such as warfarin (Coumadin), ibuprofen or aspirin or any other drugs that make it hard for your blood to clot if you start bleeding.