The risks associated with anesthesia have decreased in the past several decades, based on a variety of safety improvements such as improved monitoring techniques and widespread adoption of practice guidelines across the medical profession. However, the use of anesthesiology is still commonly regarded as a high risk activity, and it can result in life-altering injuries.
According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), complications as the result of anesthesia may include blindness, infection, damage to veins or arteries, damage to a patient's mouth, teeth or vocal chords, lung, heart or blood pressure complications, seizure or stroke, allergic reactions, nerve damage, awareness of the operation, or even death.
These risks are not spread equally across all patients and forms of anesthesia. Instead, each form of anesthesia carries unique risks.
- General Anesthesia: When a patient is under general anesthesia, he or she may face a variety of problems, including aspiration.
- Nerve Blocks: Nerve blocks are one form of regional anesthesia, wherein an injection is placed near a nerve to prevent the nerve from transmitting pain. If the needle is placed directly into the nerve, the injection can cause long-term nerve damage.
- Spinal Anesthesia: Spinal anesthesia (also known as an epidural) is a particular form of a regional anesthesia, used in procedures involving the lower body, abdomen or pelvis. With any regional anesthesia, there is a threat of systemic toxicity if the anesthetic is absorbed into the body through the bloodstream.
- Local Anesthesia: Errors with local anesthesia are uncommon, but in rare cases a patient may suffer an allergic reaction from local anesthesia.
In addition to these specific risks related to anesthesia, all medical procedures come with general risks. Doctors may misread charts and take the wrong approach to a procedure. Nurses may administer the wrong drugs in advance of a procedure, resulting in dangerous drug interactions. Drugs may be mislabeled, and the wrong drug can produce negative results.
Ultimately, the likelihood of any of these injuries or serious complications is very rare. Particular statistics are difficult to obtain, because it is often difficult to determine a single cause of death or injury.
However, according to an article published for the ASA, only about 1 in 150,000 to 1 in 250,000 relatively healthy people die as a result of anesthesia. These rates are likely elevated for those with particular illnesses, such as medical conditions affecting the heart, lungs or kidneys, as well as for the elderly.
In the vast majority of cases, doctors handle their responsibilities as expected and they are able to avoid any injuries from anesthesia by paying close attention to the patient and responding as complications arise.
When problems do arise, the consequences can be life-altering. It is of little consolation to the husband who has lost his wife that deaths from anesthesia are rare. The parent who has a child with serious brain damage doesn't care that the injury was very unlikely. In these cases, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney.
These injuries are not necessarily avoidable; at times, medical conditions require surgery and the need for the surgery outweighs the risks of problems with anesthesia. However, it is important to work with a knowledgeable doctor and understand the full extent of the risks before surgical procedures.
If your loved one was injured or died as a result of an anesthesia incident, contact the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Michels & Lew today.