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Anesthesia

Risks of anesthesia for laparoscopy

04/11/2006

Question:

I am 20 yrs old and having a laparoscopy done next month for a mass on my uterus. What kind of anesthesia do they usually put you under for this procedure, and what are the risks for `anesthesia awareness`. I`ve never had any kind of surgery or have never had to be put alseep for anything and to tell you the truth I am TERRIFIED. It`s not even the surgery I`m worried about its the thought of `being put to sleep`. Are there any risks I should be worried about?

Answer:

A certain amount of anxiety preceding an anesthetic and surgery is perfectly normal but I wonder what you've read about or heard about that has made you feel so terrified!

Almost all patients who have laparoscopic surgery of any kind will have a general anesthetic.

The good news is that, statistically, anesthesia is safer than ever. The risk of serious harm to you as a result of the anesthetic is rather low. Completely accurate figures are a bit hard to come by, but the risk of death related to anesthesia in an otherwise healthy young person having a laparoscopic procedure of the kind you describe is probably less than 1 in 250,000. Is that low enough?

The risks for anesthesia awareness, based on recent studies, are a bit higher - around 0.15%, or 15 cases in every 10,000 patients undergoing anesthesia. What are your risks of awareness? Probably much lower than this, because the number I've quoted includes patients at higher risk of awareness, such as those who are pregnant, having heart surgery, or trauma surgery. In those patients, the amount of anesthesia given is often less than in other patients. That number also lumps together those patients who have a few moments of awareness, without pain, with those who have a really bad experience. At the extreme end, these unfortunate people are in pain from the surgery while unable to move or communicate their distress. Most people who have awareness do not have this kind of terrifying experience.

Is there are guarantee that you won't be aware during your surgery? I am afraid not. It's in the nature of anesthesia, and of medical care in general. People are not machines, and we can't precisely measure what is going on in the brain. But, assuming you are having your procedure in a good hospital with competent medical staff I think you can be pretty confident that you will have a safe anesthetic without awareness during the operation. Be sure to mention your concerns to the doctors taking care of you, including of course your anesthesiologist. I am sure they will make a special effort to allay your worries.

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Response by:

Gareth S Kantor, MD Gareth S Kantor, MD
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University