All operations and anesthesia involve some degree of risk. The nature of your operation and your overall pre-operative condition are important factors that are considered when estimating the risks for your particular operative experience.
The most common complication is nausea and vomiting. This occurs more frequently in children, those susceptible to motion sickness and those who have had such previous experiences with anesthesia. If you are diabetic, obese, or pregnant you may be more prone to becoming ill. There are many ways available to minimize both the severity and frequency of nausea and vomiting. If you have a history of motion sickness, or have experienced post-operative nausea and/or vomiting after previous surgeries, please inform your anesthesiologist so that extra preventive steps can be taken.
Inhaling stomach contents into the lungs is a more serious complication. It is important not to eat or drink anything prior to your surgery. You may be given a preoperative medication to reduce the amount of your stomach’s contents. Finally, a breathing tube may be inserted during anesthetic induction to prevent these contents from spilling over into your lungs.
Other complications include, but are not limited to, low blood pressure, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, heart attack, allergic reactions, cardiac arrest, airway blockage, lack of oxygen, physical injury (such as chipped teeth, loss of teeth), muscle cramps, and death. When a pressure tourniquet is used on an operated limb, skin nerve and muscle (that are all necessarily compressed) are all potential sites of injury. Minor complications such as sore throat, headache, hoarseness, drowsiness, muscle aches, and fatigue are common during the first several days following surgery.
Regional anesthesia, involving the use of local anesthetics that produce a loss of sensation in a limited area, can produce systemic reactions that can cause dizziness, ringing in the ears, “a funny feeling”, loss of consciousness, seizures, and cardiac arrest. During major blocks, the blood vessels may relax and cause low blood pressure. Infections at the site of the injections can range from inconsequential to life threatening. Epidural, spinal and caudal blocks may also be associated with headaches that may last for several days that require special treatment and difficulty emptying the bladder.
Fortunately, the incidence of these and other potentially serious adverse events following either general or regional anesthesia is relatively remote.
Complications from anesthesia have declined dramatically over the last 25 years. Since 1970, the number of anesthesiologists has more than doubled and, at the same time and at virtually the same rate, patient outcomes have improved. In just the last decade, estimates for the number of deaths attributed to anesthesia have dropped 25-fold from 1 in 10,000 anesthetics to 1 in 250,000 today.
All this has occurred during a time when the youngest of premature infants in neonatal units survives intricate, lifesaving procedures and 100-year-old patients undergo and recover from major surgeries that were once thought to be impossible.