Risks and side effects of anaesthesia

Risks and complications of anaesthesia

Australia is one of the safest places in the world to undergo surgery. Due to the intensive training of Australian anaesthetists and improvements in operating theatre technology, anaesthetic complications have declined dramatically over the last 50 years. Some common side effects and rare (but serious) complications are discussed below:

Side effects related to general anaesthesia can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting – This common side effect following surgery is much better treated with modern medications
  • Sore throat – The breathing tube that is put in your throat under anaesthesia can cause temporary discomfort after it’s removed
  • Dental Injury – Rarely, ‘teeth grinding’ under anaesthesia or during the insertion of the breathing tube has been associated with dental trauma
  • Confusion – Temporary disorientation following anaesthesia is common, but is more frequent, and prolonged in the elderly

Rarely, general anaesthesia may cause more serious complications, including:

  • Allergic reactions – Contact with drugs and equipment (latex) during anaesthesia can cause allergies that rarely are life-threatening. It is important to discuss past allergies with your anaesthetist.
  • Respiratory compromise – It is important to tell the anaesthetist if you have a history of being a ‘Difficult Airway’ under anaesthesia or if you have a history of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) as these conditions are exacerbated under during and after surgery. If you have a ‘CPAP’ mask for OSA, make sure you bring your machine to hospital.
  • Malignant hyperthermia – In people with this very rare, inherited condition, a dangerous fever and muscle contractions can occur following exposure to anaesthesia. If you or your family member has ever had heat stroke, or suffered from the condition in a previous surgery, be sure to tell your anaesthetist.
  • Awareness under anaesthesia – While dreaming under sedation may occur occasionally, awareness under deep general anaesthesia is extremely rare.
  • Death – Patients who are elderly or have complex medical conditions, or who having ‘high risk’ surgery are at risk of serious events such as a blood clot, stroke or heart attack. Advances in modern medicine has seen a dramatic reduction in the risk of death due to anaesthesia to less than 1 in 200,000.

Side effects of Spinal or Epidural Anaesthesia

anaesthetic, which is often in addition to a general anaesthetic. There are advantages to these techniques for improving postoperative analgesia as well as a reduction in nausea, sedation and confusion. This procedure is done before your general anaesthetic commences. Under local anaesthesia, a fine needle is used to inject medication or thread a tiny catheter at the base of your spine. Rare side effects from this include headache or temporary difficulty in urinating. Extremely rarely, ‘bruising’ of a nerve can occur causing ‘nerve’ pain or tingling; the risk of permanent nerve damage or paralysis is extremely low.

The overwhelming majority of patients recover from anaesthesia and surgery smoothly. While some side effects that occur after surgery may be uncomfortable or frustrating, most don’t last long. Not all patient or procedure specific complications can be covered in this information section, risks specific to your situation will be discussed with you in person. You should always ask if you have any questions or concerns.