Anaesthetic Risks

To put things in perspective there is arguably no safer place in the world to have an anaesthetic than Australia. In terms of training, equipment and standards Australia is amongst the best in the world.

The latest report into deaths in anaesthesia that has just been released in 2014 showed that the risk of an anaesthetic related death was 1 in 55,490. To understand this properly you must understand that this number is for all anaesthetics and of those deaths.

  1. 84% of those deaths occurred in people over the age of 60yrs.
  2. 70% of the cases were either urgent or emergent.
  3. Only 7% occurred in patients considered healthy ( ie the risk for a healthy patient having an elective procedure is approximately 1/823,110).

Download the Safety of Anesthesia PDF for more info.

It is impossible to put all of the possible risks into a web site or information leaflet, the other important thing to remember is that everyone has very different worries and concerns. As an example one patient that was having major brain surgery was actually most worried about the needle to go to sleep. They didn’t have any major concerns over the risks of the operation or the anaesthetic, just the needle. So whilst this website will explain some of the more common and serious complications, we ENCOURAGE you to discuss any specific risk or concerns you have with your anaesthetist, no matter how silly you think they may be.

Many of these risks will be more specifically related to certain types of surgeries and your physical health. As an example, if you are having open heart surgery because one of the valves in your heart is damaged and you also need to have coronary artery bypass at the same time, then you are far more likely to a cardiovascular complication such as a heart attack or a stroke, than a 21 yr old having a appendicectomy. So again if you have any specific concerns please ask.

There are several common reactions that can occur after an operation and anaesthetic, I wouldn’t call them major complications that can threaten your life or cause any permanent effects, but can make you feel uncomfortable. Please see the sheet labeled common side effects.

Some infrequent complications that may occur with an operation and anaesthetic include:

  1. Damage to your teeth or dental prosthesis.
  2. Temporary breathing difficulty.
  3. Asthmatic reactions (in patients prone to asthma).
  4. Temporary nerve damage.
  5. Muscle pains.

Rare complications that may occur include:

  1. Cardiovascular complications such as ( heart attacks and stroke).
  2. Respiratory complications such as pneumonia or aspiration.
  3. Permanent nerve injury including paraplegia or quadraplegia.
  4. Severe allergic reactions called anaphylaxis.
  5. Severe reaction to the anaesthetic gas called malignant hyperthermia.
  6. Kidney and liver failure.
  7. Eye injuries.
  8. Awareness ( feeling some sensation duration the operation).

There are many things that you can do to minimize your own surgical and anaesthetic risk:

  1.  If you have any major health conditions you see a specialist for (eg cardiologist) make sure you have been seen recently and assessed by them.
  2. Take all your normal medications unless you have been otherwise told by your surgeon or anaesthetist.
  3. Fast exactly as you have been instructed.
  4. STOP smoking even if only for a short period before the operation.
  5. If you have sleep apnoea and have a CPAP Machine, bring it with you.
  6. Maintain a healthy weight, obesity increases many of your intraoperative and postoperative risks.