The Benefits and Risks of Anesthesia
Count backwards from ten, the surgeon says. Waiting in a hospital room, you may think that your anxiety and fear will keep you from falling asleep. However, you begin to count down, and before you know it, the procedure is over. You were unconscious for the whole thing, thanks to anesthesia.
Stress-free and Painless
Anesthesia refers to a temporary induced state that prevents pain and creates muscle relaxation, amnesia, and unconsciousness. A combination of drugs creates this state, including sedatives and disassociatives, like Valium.
Many medical procedures, from wisdom teeth removal to major surgery, use anesthesia. Depending on the procedure, there are different types:
- Local. During this kind of procedure, only a small part of the body is numb. The patient stays conscious but relaxed.
- Regional. This type focuses on a specific part of the body, like local anesthesia, but the area is bigger. Epidural or spinal anesthesia, for example, blocks pain in the area around the spinal cord.
- General. For severe, stressful, or painful procedures, this type is used. It affects the entire body, including the brain, and the patient is unconscious through the whole procedure. General anesthesia is administered intravenously, or the patient breathes the drugs in.
Anesthesia helps to make medical procedures less stressful and painful. For patients, it allows them to remain unconscious during the procedure, and takes away any pain or discomfort that may occur during the procedure. It is also beneficial for surgeons, as it keeps the patient calm and still.
The concept has been around since ancient times, when early groups like the Sumerians and the Egyptians used opium and cannabis to decrease the pain of illness or injury. In the western hemisphere, anesthesia use increased throughout the 20th century. Now using nitrous oxide and morphine, it was commonly called “laughing gas.”
What are the risks?
But throughout medical history, and even today, anesthesia still has its dangers. After general anesthesia, people may experience nausea and vomiting, chills, a headache, or a sore throat. Since general anesthesia affects the heart and brain, an overdose or improper administration can have serious effects, and lead to a seizure, coma, or even death. Other dangerous side effects may include heart abnormalities, blood pressure complications, asphyxia from lack of oxygen, or spinal cord injuries.
In rare cases, patients experience something called anesthesia awareness. This is the patient receives too little anesthesia, leaving them aware and awake. In these cases, the patient is often unable to move or speak, and endures the pain and stress of experiencing the procedure.
Surgeons are highly trained, and do their best to make the procedure easy, quick, and painless. However, accidents can occur through improper administration, improper instructions to the patient (like not telling a patient to not eat before a procedure), failure to monitor heart rate and blood pressure, or even equipment malfunctions. When these errors occur and cause injury or death, it may be an issue of medical malpractice.
Overall, anesthesia helps to make surgery easier for both doctors and patients, but in the rare event that something goes wrong, anesthesia can pose complications and serious dangers.
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