What are the side effects and possible complications of anesthesia?

Anesthesia, like alcohol, affects everyone differently. Here are some side effects that have been noted by some patients recovering from anesthesia:


  • Drowsy and tired feelings for hours after surgery. Anesthetics wear off at different rates in different people. Most people are awake enough to answer simple questions within 5-10 minutes after surgery, although many have short term memory loss, so that hours after surgery you may feel as though it took a long time to wake up. Many people also feel tired enough to sleep for long periods of time after surgery even though they can easily be awakened. The pain medications you get after surgery may also prolong these feelings of sleepiness.


  • Nausea. Approximately one third of people undergoing general anesthesia experience some nausea. If nausea has been a problem with past anesthetics, let your anesthesiologist know — there are a few things that can be done to help. Nausea can usually be treated quickly with medications, but a few people experience marked nausea despite our best efforts. If you have had problems with nausea after general anesthesia you might consider a regional or local anesthetic if these are options.


  • Headache. This occurs in approximately 10% of patients and is more common in patients prone to headaches and in patients who drink coffee (due to caffeine withdrawal).


  • Sore throat. While you are asleep you may have a soft plastic device in the back of your throat to make sure your airway is open and air is moving in and out easily. Even when placed very carefully and delicately, you may experience a sore throat. This usually resolves in a day, but if there has been some difficulty in placing the plastic airway device, sore throat and hoarseness may persist for longer. Permanent damage to your throat or vocal cords is very unusual.


  • Damage to teeth. This is also usually due to the plastic airway device. Damage to teeth can happen during placement (even if the anesthesiologist is very careful) or on awakening if you bite down very hard on the plastic. Be sure to let your anesthesiologist know if you have loose teeth or delicate dental work.


  • There are also a number of very rare but severe complications of anesthesia such as injury to nerves, organs and possibly death. Some health problems may increase your risk of complications — please thoroughly discuss your health with your anesthesiologist.

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