What is general anesthesia?
General anesthesia is the administration of medication and anesthetic agents that put a patient undergoing a surgical procedure “to sleep” an unable to feel pain. Anesthesia is utilized during surgical procedures to reduce anxiety or to eliminate pain in otherwise painful procedures. It is widely used and generally considered safe.
A combination of IV drugs and inhaled anesthetic agents induces unconsciousness, relaxation of skeletal muscles, loss of motor reflexes and ability move, loss of memory or amnesia, and analgesia, a loss of response to pain.
The bio-mechanical mechanism of action is now well understood, but it is believed that anesthetic agents induce an unconscious state by affecting various areas of the central nervous system. It also affects the function of the spinal cord, thalamus, and reticular activating system.
4 stages of anesthesia
There are four stages of anesthesia that occur as different drugs are used and begin to affect the patient’s central nervous system.
The first stage is induction, in which the patient can talk but begins to lose consciousness. The excitement state, or stage two, occurs when the patient loses consciousness. They may experience uncontrolled movement. Heart rhythms may become irregular. In the third stage, known as “surgical anesthesia, the skeletal muscle start to relax and movement of the eyes stops. Finally, stage four is “overdose” when the patient experiences severe depression of the respiration center of the brain stem medullary section and with out respiratory support, the patient will die.
Considered relatively safe, healthy adults should not have problems with general anesthesia under correct medical supervision. Rarely patients may experience stroke, heart attack or aspiration of food particles into their lungs, causing infection.
Risk factors for complications include smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, drug allergies, heart problems, sleep apnea, drug allergies and alcohol abuse.
Anesthesia and Awareness
Very few, less than 2 per 1,000 patients, wake up during their operation. Sometimes people may feel pain, known as “unintended intraoperative awareness,” and the pain may unbearable, but because of the paralysis induced during anesthesia, they are unable to tell the surgeon. This type of phenomena is called “unintended intraoperative awareness,” and people may experience post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
Errors in anesthesia
Focusing in this article on errors specifically in general anesthesia, some errors may apply to local anesthesia. Most commonly seen errors in anesthesia include administration of too much or too little of an amount of a drug, delayed delivery of anesthesia, failing to check drug interactions, delivering the wrong anesthetic, administration of an anesthetic agent to a person with an allergy, failure to instruct patients to avoid food or liquid intake for a number of hours before surgery, defects of medical devices and equipment, and failure to deliver oxygen during surgery or to monitor the patient.
These errors may result in confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, cardiac arrhythmia (irregular hear beats,) damage to the brain or other vital organs, damage to nerves, arteries and veins, asphyxia, blood pressure complications, complete hemodynamic collapse, injury to the spinal cord during an epidural, malignant hyperthermia, seizures, stroke, coma and death. Because paralysis of the muscles occurs as a result of certain anesthetics, this keeps the patient from making the doctor aware of pain.
Respiratory issues during anesthesia are one of the most common reasons for death or injury, accounting for 45% of brain damage, death, and issues during anesthesia. One study of anesthesia-related deaths revealed that approximately 300 anesthesia related deaths occur yearly and primarily are caused by overdose or adverse effects of anesthesia. About 3.6% occur during pregnancy or labor and the balance were due to other reasons.
Although there are a number of reasons that errors of anesthesia may result, medical negligence or malpractice of one or more medical professionals may be the cause and in these cases, the patient or his family may be entitled to hold those responsible accountable and recover damages. An experienced medical malpractice attorney will be able to evaluate your case. Call Passen & Powell at 312-527-4500 to discuss a possible case.