Anesthesia problems leading to awareness during surgery

Eric Saiontz

By Eric Saiontz
Posted March 15, 2008


Problems with anesthesia during surgery could result in a condition known as “Anesthesia Awareness”, where the patient is fully awake, yet unable to move or notify their doctors about the pain they are experiencing. The emotional trauma caused by this experience could result in serious psychological damage, such as depression, severe anxiety or an increased risk of suicide. Many experts believe that anesthesia problems could be reduced with the proper use of new technologies, such as brain wave monitors or alarms to notify doctors if anesthetic concentrations are too low in exhaled gas.

>>INFORMATION: Anesthesia Problems

Anesthesia awareness is a problem which could occur if the anesthesia is ineffective, improperly delivered or poorly controlled. It describes a state where the patient could be partially or fully awake during surgery, hearing sounds and feeling pain from the procedure. Many who have experienced the anesthesia problems describe it as the worst experience of their life, and psychologists often equate the emotional trauma to that of a rape victim.

>>PRIOR POST (12/28/2007): Effects of being awake during surgery

In recent years, a new technology has been developed to help doctors avoid the anesthesia problems which could lead to awareness during surgery. A machine which uses electrodes attached to the patients head, monitors brain waves to determine the effectiveness of the anesthesia and signal the doctor if problems develop. The machines only cost approximately $3,000, with new $16.50 sensors needed for each procedure.

Although the devices have been adopted in about 60% of all operating rooms in the United States, a study published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the machines may be no better than other methods of preventing anesthesia problems, such as measuring the anesthetic gases being exhaled by the patient. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis evaluated surgical patients who were deemed to be at high risk for the anesthesia problems, and compared the effectiveness of the brain monitors hooked up to 967 patients to a control group of 974 patients who were tracked through exhaled gases. The data found that two members in each group reported having experienced anesthesia awareness during their surgical procedure.

Advocates who support the use of brain wave monitors to reduce the risk of anesthesia problems, suggest that the control group in the New England Journal of Medicine study does not reflect the standard anesthesia practice in most operating rooms where the machines are not used. In the study, researchers provided physicians who were monitoring exhaled gases with an alarm which sounded when the anesthetic concentration was too low. They also provided the physicians with instructions to follow if the problems were encountered, and these steps are not common during routine surgeries.


Anesthesiologists must be very careful during surgery to maintain the proper levels, since too little anesthetic may result in pain and emotional trauma during the surgery, yet too much may lead to long term drug-related side-effects. In many cases, anesthesia problems resulting in awareness during surgery can be directly attributed to a doctors failure to follow the proper standard of medical care.

If you, a friend or family member have experienced anesthesia problems, resulting in severe physical pain or emotional damage, request a free consultation and claim evaluation.

2 Comments • Add Your Comments

  • Dr. Fernandez says:

    Medicine is an imperfect science as yet, thats why there is room for infinite progress. Trying to gain monetary benefit from anesthesia awareness, a thing which still we dont know how to prevent completely is ridiculous. What we need to concentrate upon is how to treat them and to whats best for them.

    Posted on October 20, 2010 at 2:23 am

  • David says:

    Dr. Fernandez, Our society functions on money. The only way to get good service is to pay for it but if the service is bad we also need to penalize the provider of the service. Another words I want my Doctor to know he will be hit with penalties if he messes us.

    Posted on November 4, 2010 at 10:41 am

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