Anesthesia is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, undergoing major surgery without anesthesia would cause excruciating pain to the patient and would be unthinkable. Even minor surgeries and procedures would be extremely painful if these were performed without some localized numbing of the area. Even a trained anesthesiologist cannot guarantee that you will not experience adverse reactions or other harm from the use of anesthesia.
According to John Hopkins Health System, anesthesia can be administered locally, regionally, or generally, depending on the nature of the procedure. Local anesthesia numbs a small area and is generally used in dental procedures, or some minor outpatient surgeries. Regional anesthesia numbs a larger area of the body, such as an epidural administered during childbirth. General anesthesia is designed to render the individual unconscious and is used for major surgeries. Anesthesia can be administered intravenously, through an injection, or applied topically. Any anesthesia, however, can cause complications and negative effects if administered improperly or if too much anesthesia is given.
The Effects of Too Much Anesthesia
A patient may experience adverse effects and reactions from anesthesia before and/or after surgery. The John Hopkins Health System lists several common reactions to anesthesia, including nausea and vomiting that are temporary in nature and decrease in severity over time. An overdose of anesthesia (whether local, regional, or general in nature) can cause serious injuries to the patient that may be long-lasting, including:
- Nausea and/or vomiting;
- Impaired judgment;
- Impaired coordination;
- Difficulty breathing or other respiratory problems;
- Hypothermia (low body temperature due to poor circulation);
- Dementia or other mental impairment;
- Physical impairment or disability;
- Brain damage;
Complications from anesthesia can appear quickly or they may appear slowly over time. This complicates matters for patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania who were administered too much anesthesia. The longer it takes for symptoms of an anesthesia overdose to develop the more difficult it can be to prove that the patient’s injuries are attributable to an anesthesia error.
Can an Anesthesia Overdose Result in Death?
Not only can too much anesthesia result in wrongful death, according to an article published in a German Medical Association’s journal and referenced in Time magazine, worldwide death rates attributable to complications from general anesthesia are on the rise after decades of decline. Worldwide, about seven patients out of every million die as a result of the administration of anesthesia (that is, while they are on the operating table). One in 20 patients will die within one year of general anesthesia, and one in ten patients over the age of 65 years old will die within one year of general anesthesia.
When initially administered, anesthesia can cause a patient’s blood pressure to drop dramatically. If this is not carefully monitored and prompt corrective measures taken to stabilize a patient’s blood pressure, the patient may die. But complications and reactions from anesthesia also can appear days, weeks, or even months after the patient was put under general anesthesia.
Age is just one factor that increases the risk of complications and/or death from general anesthesia. A patient who is overweight, has preexisting health conditions, or who is generally in poor health has a higher risk of suffering fatal complications from general anesthesia.
What is Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction?
Older patients who go under general anesthesia also face an increased risk of cognitive impairment as the result of anesthesia. According to a 2014 article published in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, a German medical publication, postoperative cognitive dysfunction is defined as a “new cognitive impairment arising after a surgical procedure.” Although postoperative cognitive dysfunction can be caused by a variety of surgery-related circumstances, postoperative cognitive dysfunction can be caused by an anesthesia overdose. Like other anesthesia-related complications, postoperative cognitive dysfunction can be permanent. According to the article, approximately 12 out of every 100 patients 60 years of age and older experience postoperative cognitive dysfunction within three months of their surgery.
Memory Loss After Anesthesia
Memory loss and delirium are common forms of postoperative cognitive dysfunction. Memory loss that develops after a surgery is generally much more severe than simply forgetting where one put his or her keys. The patient may experience the sensation of a heavy fog in his or her head that inhibits clear thinking, impairs judgment, and can make the patient forget where he or she is or why he or she is in the hospital.
For some patients postoperative cognitive dysfunction will resolve itself after a day or two, but other patients will suffer with the symptoms of postoperative cognitive dysfunction for a much longer period of time. A study cited in a 2014 article published in Scientific American found that, out of 459 patients receiving general anesthesia, 24 percent displayed confusion after the surgery and 15 percent displayed some type of mental impairment three months after the procedure, suggesting that anesthesia may have lasting effects on the brain for some patients.
What To Do if You Experienced an Anesthesia Overdose
If you believe you or a loved one is suffering the effects of an anesthesia overdose, it is important that you speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney right away. Pennsylvania and New Jersey laws give patients injured by anesthesia errors a limited amount of time within which to seek compensation for their injuries. These cases are difficult to investigate and prepare for trial, which is why injured patients need legal counsel familiar with these types of injuries.
The Colleran Firm, a medical malpractice law firm helping injured patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, is experienced and knowledgeable in how to investigate and present anesthesia error lawsuits. We are dedicated to helping our clients receive the most favorable outcome. Four of our five attorneys are family members, so we understand how your anesthesia error affects not only you but also your loved ones. Contact our Philadelphia office by telephone or complete our online form to request a free initial consultation.