study finds increased death rates from general anesthesia

Today, doctors have a wide variety of anesthesia medications to choose from, but this element of choice requires physicians to carefully consider which drug to use. In order to prevent anesthesia errors, physicians must consider the side effects of the medication and potentially dangerous interactions with other drugs the patient may be taking. Additionally, physicians need to consider the adverse effects that anesthesia can have on a patient who has existing health problems.

In the early days of anesthesia, mishaps were common. In the 1940s, the death rate for patients undergoing anesthesia was 640 out of every one million patients. Medical techniques improved over the years and by the 1980s, the death rate was down to four out of every one million patients.

Despite the past improvements, worldwide anesthesia death rates appear to be back on the rise.

According to a recent study published in the German Medical Association’s international science journal, the rate of deaths has increased to seven out of every one million patients who go under anesthesia. The number of deaths that happen within one year of undergoing anesthesia is far higher. About one in 20 anesthesia patients die within one year after going under general anesthesia. In patients who are 65 or older, the rate jumps to one in 10.

According to the author of the recent study, this is happening because general anesthesia inflicts a great deal of stress on patients. Dying on the operating table is still a relatively rare event, but the effects of a long operation can have serious adverse impacts on a patient’s future health if an anesthesia error is made.

Source: Time, “Under the Knife: Study Shows Rising Death Rates from General Anesthesia,” Aug. 4, 2011

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