Millions of anesthetics are administered in the United States every year. Most of the time, even in the face of risk factors, surgery and anesthesia are performed safely and without complications. And the overwhelming majority of complications, if they do occur, are easily corrected. There are some factors related to the patient that can affect your anesthesia.
The biggest factor influencing the risk of anesthesia is your medical history. People who have heart disease are more likely to have issues with their heart after surgery and anesthesia. The same is true of someone with lung problems- the bigger risks for them will involve oxygen levels and shortness of breath after surgery and anesthesia.
What you can do: Know your medical history, bring copies of recent tests or reports to the anesthesia pre-op appointment and day of surgery, take your prescribed medications and follow the post-op instructions given to you.
Smoking affects the ability of the lungs to obtain oxygen and fight off infection. It also decreases the ability of the blood to carry oxygen to vital organs and predisposes to risk of blood clot and low oxygen levels after surgery and anesthesia.
What you can do: Quit smoking well in advance of your surgery. If you do smoke, tell the anesthesiologist how much you smoke and for how long, when you last had a cigarette, and any symptoms you have (like cough or shortness of breath) that could be attributed to smoking. Be honest.
Obesity is a risk factor for certain complications after anesthesia, like low oxygen levels and shortness of breath. A very obese person likely won't have time to lose significant amounts of weight before a scheduled surgery so...
What you can do: Keep your heart and lungs healthy. Do some aerobic activity every day, such as walking. We often say that surgery and anesthesia are like vigorous exercise, so having a healthy heart and lungs will help recovery. Also, follow all instructions for deep breathing exercises as you recover to decrease the risk of low oxygen levels and pneumonia.
Most people assume that the rule not to eat or drink is there to prevent them from feeling nauseous or vomiting after anesthesia. This rule actually exists to keep our patients from serious complications. When you go to 'sleep' with anesthesia, muscles relax. Anything that is in your stomach can be regurgitated up and end up in your lungs. This type of 'aspiration pneumonia' can be deadly.
What you can do: Follow the instructions given to you by the preop personnel.
Anesthesia is very safe but the drugs we use are powerful. Not surprisingly, they can interact with medications you are already taking. This includes herbal supplements and any illegal drugs. If we know what you are taking, we can adjust our anesthesia plan accordingly. If we don't know (especially with the illegal drugs), we are playing a guessing game and your life could be at risk.
What you can do: Take prescribed medications as instructed, stop herbal supplements at least a week before surgery (ask preop staff if you aren't sure) don't drink excessive amounts of alcohol in the days before your surgery, do not use illicit drugs and if you do TELL YOUR ANESTHESIOLOGIST.
Help the anesthesia providers help you by following instructions (if you are uncomfortable with or uncertain of an instruction- ASK), take care of yourself before and after your surgery and anesthesia and be honest about your history.
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