Anesthesia Negligence or Inherent Risk?


General anesthesia negligence is a common cause of injury for many. Anesthesia ensures that procedures are completed in a controlled, comfortable, and humane way. Although anesthesia and surgery are safer than ever before, it isn’t without any risks. Here’s what you need to know.

Can You Sue for Anesthesia Negligence?

Yes. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are liable for anesthesia mistakes. If you or someone you know was injured or killed as a result of anesthesia negligence, please contact our attorneys at (800) 767-8040 for a free and confidential consultation.  

What is General Anesthesia?

General anesthesia puts you into a sleep-like state before a medical procedure, like surgery, so that you don’t feel pain. It’s a combination of medications that, unlike sleep, ensure you remain unconscious and stop your brain from responding to pain signals and reflexes. This type of anesthesia is typically applied for procedures that result in significant blood loss, affect your breathing, take a long time, or expose you to a cold environment.

Short-Term Risks of General Anesthesia

It’s worth noting that general anesthesia is widely considered to be very safe, with most people having no serious issues after use. This is true even for people with more significant health conditions. Generally speaking, the risks from the actual procedure are higher than your risk of issues from anesthesia.

Still, there are risks that you should be aware of before undergoing anesthesia. Short-term side effects are those that could impact you for a limited period of time but will not impact your life overall. They’re minor, temporary, and subside within a few days.

Patients often report feeling groggy or confused after they wake up. The medications in anesthesia can leave you feeling nauseous, and can even make you vomit. This is referred to as postoperative nausea and vomiting, or PONV. About 30% of all patients experience it and it typically occurs within the first 12 to 48 hours after surgery. It is not well understood why PONV occurs.

During anesthesia, you’ll also have a breathing tube that can give you a sore throat, dry mouth, and mild hoarseness. You may even have cuts on your lips, gums, tongue, or throat. In some cases where an anesthesiologist improperly places the tube, there can even be damage to the teeth. Anesthesia may also make you feel cold and cause you to shiver, or be sleepy and tired.

Long-Term Risks of Anesthesia

Long-term risks of anesthesia are those that create issues that will impact you for years, and potentially for the rest of your life. This includes death, although it is incredibly unlikely for a patient to die from anesthesia.

Awareness Under Anesthesia and PTSD

Many people are concerned about waking up while under anesthesia. Since patients are given paralytics to facilitate surgery, a patient who wakes up from anesthesia during the procedure may not be able to move or make the doctors and nurses aware of the issue. This is a very rare occurrence, happening in 1 to 2 patients per every 1,000. However, for those that do experience this, it can lead to long-term psychological issues, similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Although there are no clear connections as to what can make anesthesia awareness more likely, some factors that could be involved are:

  • Depression
  • Daily alcohol use
  • Emergency surgery
  • Cesarean delivery
  • Certain medications
  • Heart or lung problems

This can also be caused by the negligence of the anesthesiologist. This includes giving lower anesthesia doses than necessary, not monitoring the patient, and not measuring the amount of anesthesia in the patient’s system throughout the procedure.

Postoperative Delirium or Cognitive Dysfunction

This condition can cause long-term learning and memory problems. It tends to occur in older people whose aging brains can’t easily recover from anesthesia. It’s also more likely to occur in people who have heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or those who have had a stroke.

Some people report that they just “couldn’t think quite so clearly,” while in other cases, caregivers say that the patient was just “never the same” after anesthesia. This condition is new and not yet well understood. Some doctors theorize that the issue is related to inflammation in a “vulnerable brain,” which is characterized by genetics, aging, or comorbidities.

Breathing Problems

Some patients experience ongoing breathing problems after surgery. Patients who have obstructive sleep apnea have the highest risk of this issue. During the procedure, anesthesia can cause the throat to close, making it harder for the patient to wake up and breathe afterward.

Malignant Hyperthermia

Some patients can have a serious reaction to anesthesia that causes them to get malignant hyperthermia. As a result, they will have a quick fever and muscle contractions. This is a potentially deadly side effect of anesthesia that is particularly dangerous for people who have had heat strokes or who have gotten malignant hyperthermia from past surgeries.

Aspiration Pneumonitis

In rare cases, some patients regurgitate stomach contents while under anesthesia. Since the person is unconscious, the reflexes that seal off the airway may not be functional, which then may allow vomit to enter the lungs. When this happens, it can cause inflammation and infection of the lungs. This issue is more common for patients who have recently eaten, have severe reflux, are diabetic, or who are pregnant.

Peripheral Nerve Damage

Although not directly related to anesthesia, peripheral nerve damage is possible. During extensive surgery, the anesthesiologist is responsible for monitoring and moving the patient. This is to protect the patient from pressure building on specific parts of the body. If pressure does build-up, the ulnar nerve in the arm, the peroneal nerve in the lower leg, and even the optic nerves to the eyes can be damaged. Depending on the severity of the damage, the function of these areas may never fully recover.

Why Are There Complications with Anesthesia?

Complications with anesthesia can occur due to anesthesia negligence. They can also occur due to a person’s age, genetics, and medical history.  However, your doctor and anesthesiologist should be aware of this information prior to surgery. Complications may also occur if you don’t follow the doctor’s instructions about eating before the procedure.

With this in mind, the most common complications are actually caused by negligence on the anesthesiologist’s part. In particular, the most common mistakes are involved with the administering of anesthesia. This includes:

  • Failing to give the patient proper directions on how to prepare prior to surgery
  • Improper intubation causing tooth damage or lacerations
  • Giving too much or too little anesthesia
  • Failing to properly monitor the patient
  • Failing to recognize complications as they arise
  • Failing to monitor oxygen delivery to the patient
  • Accidentally turning off the alarm on the pulse oximeter, which measures blood oxygen levels
  • Failure to move the patient to avoid putting too much pressure on certain parts of the body

Contact an Anesthesia Negligence Attorney

Even in the modern world, anesthesia negligence can occur. While short-term risks are most common, it’s important to be aware of potential long-term complications and speak with your doctor about them prior to surgery.

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