Study: Waking during surgery is less common than we thought

One in 15,000 patients is aware while under general anesthesia, study finds

Incidents involving patients who are aware or awake during an operation under general anesthesia happens less often than previously thought, according to a British study in the journal Anaesthesia.  

The study—which is the largest of its kind to date—surveyed 7,125 anesthesiologists and coordinators at 329 U.K. hospitals. Researchers from Britain's Royal College of Anaesthetists identified 153 cases of "accidental awareness" in 2011. Of those cases:

  • 47% occurred after anesthesia was administered but before the operation had begun;
  • 30% occurred during an operation; and
  • 23% happened after surgery but before the full recovery period.

Altogether, the researchers estimated about one in 15,000 patients is aware or awake while under general anesthesia, which is significantly less than the one in 500 patients estimated in previous research.

Additionally, although about two-thirds of hospitals contain brain monitoring systems to ensure that a patient under anesthesia is really unaware, fewer than 2% of anesthesiologists routinely use it, according to the study.

Jaideep Pandit, a consultant anesthetist at Oxford University hospitals in the United Kingdom and lead author of the study, says he hopes the results will reassure patients who fear waking up in the operating room (Locke, WebMD Health News, 3/14).

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