Paralyzed and Awake During Surgery

While the safety of anesthesia has increased markedly over the last 20 years, people may react differently to the same level or type of anesthesia. Sometimes different medications can mask important signs that anesthesia professionals monitor to help determine the depth of anesthesia.

In other rare instances, technical failure or human error may contribute to unexpected episodes of awareness. The ultimate goal is always to protect the life of the patient and to make the patient as comfortable as possible. That is why it is important to have highly trained anesthesia professionals involved in your surgery.

How can I reduce the risk of patient awareness?

Before surgery, patients should meet with their anesthesia professional to discuss anesthesia options. Should there be concerns regarding awareness, this is an ideal time to express them and to ask questions. Patients should share with their anesthesia professional any problems they may have experienced with previous anesthetics, and also discuss any prescription medications or over-the-counter medications they are taking.

As always, your anesthesia professional will guide you safely through your surgery by relying on his or her clinical experience, training and judgment combined with proven technology.

What should I do if I think I've experienced awareness?

ASA and AANA urge you to talk with your anesthesia professional, who can explain to you the events that took place in the operating room at any stage of your surgery and why you might have been aware at certain times.

It is important to note that a variety of anesthetic agents are often used, some of which may create false memories or no memory at all of the various events surrounding surgery. If you have distinct recollections of your surgery and want to discuss them, your anesthesia professional can help you or refer you to a counselor or to other appropriate resources.

It has been shown that early counseling after an episode of awareness can help to lessen feelings of confusion, stress or trauma associated with the experience.

What are doctors doing to prevent patient awareness in the future?

As patient advocates, anesthesia professionals are working hard to reduce the likelihood of awareness under general anesthesia. Depending upon the type of surgery, these experts have an array of proven technologies that can be used to monitor various vital signs of the surgical patient.

Extensive research is under way to develop and study new technologies, such as brain-wave monitoring, that may lessen the risk of awareness.

New brain-wave monitoring devices currently being tested may prove to be helpful in reducing the risk of awareness, but they need to undergo the same rigorous scientific review process that has led to wide adoption of other medical technologies.

However, at the present time, no new technologies have been perfected.

Remember, no monitoring device can replace the judgment and skill of an anesthesia professional who has years of training and clinical experience. Working together, you and your anesthesia professional can make your anesthetic experience as safe and comfortable as possible.

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