Over 150 patients ‘wake up’ during surgery, study shows

17 September 2014

Over 150 patients ‘wake up’ during surgery, study shows

Despite being given general anaesthesia, over 150 people a year in the UK and Ireland have reported that they have been conscious during surgery

While the study by scientists shows this happens in one in every 19,000 operations expert say much more needs to be done to prevent it happening. The study, which is the largest of its kind, found that there were more frequent cases of patients waking up when women were given general anaesthesia for Caesarean sections or patients were given certain drugs.

Reactions range from panic and pain to choking

The study was led by the Royal College of Anaesthetists and Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland. Researchers studied three million operations over a period of one year. While some episodes were short-lived, 41% of cases resulted in long term psychological harm.

Mistreatment.com has spoken to clients where patients have experienced heart attacks as a result of waking up during surgery, with other complaints mirroring the finding in the study that over 300 people reported they had experienced some level of awareness during surgery-usually before surgery started or after operations were completed: yet still some reported waking up mid-procedure.

Patients who have woken up during surgery have dealt with a range of reactions-from panic and pain to a choking sensation, with some even feeling paralysed and unable to communicate what was happening.

The study showed that approximately 90% of incidents occurred when muscle-relaxant drugs - used to help paralyse muscles during surgery - were administered in combination with other drugs that normally dampen consciousness.

"A highly distressing experience"

Researchers believe in some of these cases patients received an imbalanced amount of medication which left them still aware of what was happening even though they were physically paralysed.

There was a higher frequency of wake ups during surgery in cases from women who had Caesarean sections while under general anaesthesia. This was attributed to the types of drugs used during the procedure with one in 670 people who have Caesarean sections with general anaesthesia experiencing some levels of awareness. Other common factors include lung and heart operations and surgery on patients who are obese.

In light of the study, researchers are now calling for a checklist to be used when operations commence with a nationwide approach to managing patients who have these experiences.

Prof Tim Cook, at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, who led the research, said: "For the vast majority it should be reassuring that patients report awareness so infrequently.

"However for a small number of patients this can be a highly distressing experience.

"I hope this report will ensure anaesthetists pay even greater attention to preventing episodes of awareness."

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