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Can Anesthesia Cause Brain Damage?

Brain Damage from Anesthesia Can Have Life-Altering Consequences

Undergoing a medical procedure of any kind can be intimidating. You’re trusting your body and well-being with someone else, hoping you emerge better than when you came in.

Today, there are safeguards in place to ensure that patients are protected from any adverse effects. But every procedure and medication comes with risks, and the unfortunate truth is that rare things do happen. Anesthesia is used in a variety of surgeries and procedures today. While it’s entirely safe, most of the time, anesthesia errors do happen, and people do get hurt–brain damage from anesthesia can have life-altering consequences.

You might be wondering if you are legally protected if something goes wrong?  Call our anesthesia errors lawyers to learn your legal options.

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What Are the Different Types of Anesthesia?

General anesthesia

General anesthesia puts the recipient into a sleep-like state and is often given via a combination of intravenous medication and gases that the patient inhales. General anesthesia makes the patient feel like they’re asleep but also prevents their ability to feel pain. This is used for surgical procedures where it’s safest to have the patient unconscious.

Local anesthesia

While general anesthesia makes a patient feel like they’re sleeping, with local anesthesia, the recipient stays awake. It is used only to numb a small, specific area of the body. It can be administered topically or via an injection into the necessary site. It is often used for minor procedures, like stitching a deep cut or performing skin biopsies.

Regional anesthesia

Regional anesthesia also allows the patient to stay awake while still preventing them from feeling pain. But while local anesthesia numbs quite a small and precise area, regional anesthesia numbs a much larger area. It is often used during childbirth and surgery performed on the leg, arm, or abdomen.

How Does Anesthesia Impact the Brain?

While some forms of anesthesia may make the recipient feel like they’re asleep, this is actually not the case. General anesthesia instead puts the recipient into a sort of unconscious state, which scientists have compared to a reversible coma.

General anesthesia basically changes the way the brain functions and the ways in which the oscillation patterns of brain function occur. It actually impacts the central nervous system and prevents neurons in different parts of the brain from communicating with each other, which is what causes the unconsciousness and lack of pain.

The Stages of Anesthesia

Today, anyone who receives any type of anesthesia is monitored closely by an array of machinery, which can track blood pressure, breathing, blood fluid levels, and the patient’s vitals. There is also always a dedicated anesthesiologist who administers the general anesthetic and monitors patients. During a major surgery, the anesthesiologist may also insert a breathing tube; this ensures that a patient’s breathing remains steady and their oxygen levels are where they should be. Making sure all of this is done correctly will significantly reduce the risk of adverse reactions.

Before complex machinery existed to watch for things like oxygen deprivation and proper blood flow, doctors came up with four stages of anesthesia. They are as follows:

  • Induction: The drug is administered to the patient, causing them to lose consciousness.
  • Excitement or delirium: As the drug takes effect, there is a brief stage in which the patient’s breathing and heart rate can become erratic. they also might have uncontrolled movements, or attempt to vomit. The anesthesiologist monitors the patient closely and moves them through this stage as quickly as possible.
  • Surgical anesthesia: The muscles now fully relax, and involuntary movements cease. Surgery can now safely proceed.
  • Overdose: The patient usually does not reach this stage, but it is possible. If a patient receives too much anesthesia, they can overdose, causing cardiac arrest. It is incredibly rare.

Can Anesthesia Cause Brain Damage?

General anesthesia

When administered correctly and monitored by an experienced anesthesiologist, anesthesia is generally safe. That being said, as with each and every medication, there are some potential risks and side effects.

Minor side effects

  • Nausea and vomiting: This is a common side effect from both the use of general anesthetics and from surgery as a whole. It usually comes on in the first few hours or days after a person has undergone surgery.
  • Postoperative delirium: Many people will feel a little disoriented and confused when they wake up from a surgery that involved the use of anesthesia. This usually doesn’t last long, but in older patients, it can continue, off an on, for up to a week.
  • Sore throat: Sore throat is a common side effect if a patient was intubated during a surgery. Once the tube is removed, the throat can feel tender and uncomfortable for a little while.

Severe side effects

All of the above typically disappear quickly. Of course, if they don’t go away or if they worsen, you should seek medical treatment as soon as you can. But in addition to these common and generally minor side effects, there are some more serious possible anesthesia complications. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, these include:

  • Hypoxic brain injury: it occurs when the brain goes too long without oxygen. This rare occurrence usually happens as a result of anesthesia errors, and is not likely if the drug is administered properly. When this condition unfortunately does occur, it can leave patients with permanent brain damage.
  • Postoperative cognitive dysfunction: As noted above, some postoperative delirium is not uncommon after a surgery. But in some cases, it can persist longer than a few days or even weeks. Certain patients, particularly older patients, may experience permanent damage in the form of long term memory loss and learning issues. The risk of this is higher if the patient has Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, or has experienced a stroke recently.
  • Malignant hyperthermia: This is essentially an inherited allergic reaction to anesthesia. In those who have it, a fever and uncontrollable muscle contractions will occur during surgery. It can be deadly.

Regional anesthesia

Regional anesthesia is generally considered a safe and effective technique for managing pain during various medical procedures. However, like any medical intervention, it comes with inherent risks. One of the potential risks associated with regional anesthesia is the possibility of nerve damage or injury at the site of injection. This can result in sensory or motor deficits, although complications are relatively rare. Another concern is the inadvertent intravascular injection of local anesthetic agents, which can lead to systemic toxicity and affect the central nervous system. While the incidence of significant brain damage due to regional anesthesia is extremely low, careful administration, monitoring, and adherence to best practices by skilled healthcare professionals can help mitigate these risks and ensure patient safety during regional anesthesia procedures. Patients should always discuss potential risks and benefits with their healthcare providers before anesthesia.

Local anesthesia

This type of anesthesia is generally the least likely to have adverse effects on the recipient. Because it’s just a one-time injection into a specific area of the body, with no loss of consciousness, there is virtually no risk of brain injury or brain damage. Some possible side effects include soreness or itchiness at the injection site.

Possible Causes of Anesthesia-Related Brain Injury

If anesthesia is typically so safe, how does brain damage ever occur? The unfortunate answer is that it’s usually preventable, and the result of anesthesia errors. Some of these errors include:

  • Giving a patient the wrong dose of anesthesia
  • Failing to monitor a patient’s vital signs
  • Failing to properly and thoroughly evaluate a patient’s medical history<
  • Failing to notice when a patient is responding poorly to the medication<
  • Improper intubation

Legal Options After Anesthesia-Related Brain Injury

Severe brain damage from anesthetic drugs is rare, but it certainly does happen. And when it does, it can have a painful and significant impact on both the victim and all of their friends and loved ones.

It’s important to remember that if you or someone you love has experienced brain injuries from the use of anesthesia, you are not alone, and you have options. If your injury results from negligence, you could file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the negligent party. A successful lawsuit will result in damages that can cover medical bills and expenses, lost wages if the injury prevented you from working, and more. It can even account for the pain and suffering, and emotional distress you’ve endured.

The first step in exercising your legal rights is to seek a personal injury lawyer experienced in the medical malpractice space. Your attorney can review your case in great detail and make sure you have a valid claim with enough evidence to support it. They will then handle the negotiation process against the defendant and work to ensure you are adequately compensated for your suffering.

Call Our Medical Malpractice Lawyers Today

You can discuss the details of your claim with our DC medical malpractice lawyers, who have experience in anesthesia-related malpractice claims and brain injury cases. Regan Zambri Long offers a free, no-obligation case review. Call today.

Schedule a Free Consultation

Have you or your loved one sustained injuries in Washington DC, Maryland or Virginia? Regan Zambri Long PLLC has the best lawyers in the country to analyze your case and answer the questions you may have.

Call 202-960-4596

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