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Does general anesthesia have long-lasting consequences?

One of the things that isn't often discussed is the likelihood of having side effects from anesthesia. Patients are usually asked to sign waivers for anesthesia before operations, but that doesn't mean they're receiving a full disclosure about the potential injuries they could suffer. These patients are then left with injuries they didn't expect and may feel filing a lawsuit is the only option.

One side effect of anesthesia is called postoperative delirium. It's a state of mental confusion and memory loss that can take place as the anesthesia wears off. Hallucinations are possible, and patients may seem unable to put together coherent sentences. Most of the time, patients have these side effects resolve within a few days, but the damage to memory and attention span can last for months or years.

What is general anesthesia?

General anesthesia combines a number of drugs to render patients unconscious. They are unable to make memories of the surgery, so they have no recollection of what happened. The neurons are essentially disrupted in the brain, changing the way the body regulates sleep, attention, memory and learning. What's most interesting about this is that no particular anesthetic drug has been shown to do more or less than another; they can all cause postoperative delirium.

Falling deeply into an anesthetized state can lead to long-lasting consequences. It's been shown that people who present with delirium or memory loss have a risk of suffering from these issues for a few months. In a study performed by an assistant professor and her colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical School looking at patients age 60 and older, those who presented with delirium after an operation took up to a year to fully recover.

Source: Scientific American, "The Hidden Dangers of Going Under," Carina Storrs, accessed Aug. 30, 2016

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