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The dangers of anesthesia

Sarah Wassner Flynn is a New York City-based writer. She's contributed to magazines such as CosmoGIRL!, National Geographic Kids, Runner's World, Women's Health, Prevention and MetroSports New York. She is also the author of The Book of ...

Are You At Risk?

General anesthesia works to knock you out and escape pain during oral surgery, elective surgery and other complicated surgical procedures. But in rare cases, it can also bring about serious, even fatal complications. Are you at risk for complications related to anesthesia?

Female Patient


By most accounts, 18-year-old Stephanie Kuleba, a sunny blonde with a beaming smile and bubbly personality, was perfect. But it was physical imperfections – symmetrical breasts and an inverted nipple – that brought her to a Florida plastic surgeon's office for a routine augmentation procedure and ultimately cost her her young, promising life. A standard pre-surgery dose of general anesthesia reportedly triggered malignant hyperthermia in Kuleba's body, sending her heart racing and body temperature rising so rapidly she died about 24 hours after the procedure.

Serious complications from general anesthesia are extremely rare: Malignant hyperthermia effects about one in 10,000 to one in 30,000 patients and far fewer – about five in one million – will die. But even one is too many.

More common are side effects like nausea, dizziness and muscle aches, which are much less dangerous and easily managed. Still, they do happen. If you have surgery coming up and are worried about going under, take these steps to avoid an adverse reaction to anesthesia. anesthesiologist

BE HONEST WITH YOUR ANESTHESIOLOGIST

Prior to your surgery, an anesthesiologist will go over your medical and personal history with you. You will be asked about everything from your allergies to any loose teeth you may have. Though the questions may seem invasive and unrelated to your procedure, they are being asked to get an in-depth health history to make sure your dose of anesthesia is appropriate and, more important, safe. If you leave out details, such as certain medications you are taking or that you are a heavy drinker, you could receive the wrong amount of anesthesia, putting yourself in danger.

CHECK YOUR FAMILY HISTORY

Do you have a mom, dad, uncle or aunt who is allergic to anesthesia? Let your surgeon, nurse and anesthesiologist know right away. Any family history of unexpected complications related to anesthesia may point to potential problems you can avoid if your family's medical history is known. If you are not sure about your history, make it a point to ask your family members and find out if any relatives have experienced problems in the past – it could save your life. And, at the very least, it can better ensure your surgical procedure is as comfortable as possible.

FOLLOW YOUR DOCTOR'S ORDERS

When it comes to what to do prior to your procedure, follow your doctor's orders carefully. Especially if you are told to stop eating at a certain time the day before surgery. Going under anesthesia with any food in your stomach can cause complications like aspiration pneumonia, a condition in which you vomit up food and then breathe it into your lungs. If you happen to not follow your doctor's recomendations, inform the surgical staff immediately – your surgery may need to be postponed or cancelled.

Still worried? While general anesthesia is usually necessary, there may be other ways to approach your surgery. Talk to your anesthesiologist or surgeon about potential alternatives to anesthesia.

For more information on the safety of anesthesia, visit these links:

Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation

Cosmetic surgery pros, cons and risk factors

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