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Anyone who has undergone any sort of surgery requiring the use of general anesthesia to render them unconscious knows from firsthand experience just how long and intricate the list of preoperative instructions can be.
Chief among these preoperative instructions is the command that the patient abstain from either eating or drinking for a set amount of time prior to going under. Here, this instruction stems from the need to significantly reduce the risk of pulmonary aspiration, a potentially deadly complication in which the contents of the patient’s stomach can actually be pulled into their respiratory tract during the procedure effectively asphyxiating them.
Despite the depth and breadth of preoperative instructions concerning eating and drinking, there has always been one area that remained somewhat unclear: chewing gum.
Specifically, while patients have traditionally been informed not to chew gum prior to a surgical procedure requiring general anesthesia, there has always been a lingering debate as to whether a slip up on the part of the patient in this regard is enough to delay or even cancel a surgery.
The preliminary results of a recently released study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, however, suggests that chewing gum prior to surgery may not be as problematic as previously envisioned.
As part of the study, the researchers divided 67 patients scheduled to undergo gastrointestinal endoscopic procedures into two groups: one who chewed no gum prior to surgery and another who chewed gum just before the start of the procedure (all varying in terms of how much gum they chewed, the type of gum they chewed, the length of time they chewed the gum, etc.).
What did they discover?
“We found that although chewing gum before surgery increases the production of saliva and thus the volume of stomach liquids, it does not affect the level of stomach acidity in a way that would elevate the risk of complications,” said one of the primary study authors.
The researchers went on to conclude that even though the chewing of gum prior to surgery should continue to be strongly discouraged, a patient who has no other aspiration risk factors, and accidentally chewed gum beforehand should not see their procedure cancelled or even delayed.
While this is certainly a fascinating study, it’s important to point out that pulmonary aspiration isn’t the only type of serious anesthesia error that can occur. For example, an anesthesiologist might pick the wrong drug for sedation or fail to account for a possible drug interaction.
If these errors occur and the unimaginable happens, it’s important to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your options for seeking justice.
Source: U.S. News & World Report, “Chewing gum before surgery safe: Report,” Oct. 13, 2014