Dangerous Anesthesia Risks That Most People Are Never Told

Modern medicine has come along way. There was a time when doctors believed patients needed to feel the pain to heal properly. Can you imagine surgery and recovery without pain management? Of course not, we live in a different time. Even with all the medical advancements, some risks can’t be avoided.

When it comes to anesthesia, most patients can have a safe, pain-free surgery. Some people have the misfortune of dealing with some medical complications due to the medications and procedures designed to help them. According to TIME, the death rate from anesthesia-related risks is on the rise. This is likely due to an increase in the average age of the patients, and the increase in complicated surgeries.

What’s more frightening is how little people know about these potentially life-threatening complications. In some cases, the patient didn’t even know the risk was a possibility. Here are the top 15 dangerous anesthesia risks that most people are never told about. No. 15 is the stuff of nightmares.

1. Allergic reaction

Patient wearing an oxygen mask
Surgical patient | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty images

This is the most common risk associated with general anesthesia. When you fill out paperwork for a medical procedure, you are asked to list everything you have a known allergy or reaction to. Unfortunately, there is really no way to know if you are allergic to a drug until you have your first experience. The good news is that doctors and dentists have everything they need, just in case an allergic reaction does happen.

Next: This can increase your risk of infection.

2. High blood sugar

testing blood sugar
Testing blood sugar | Marina Vol/iStock/Getty Images

Whether a person has diabetes or not, they are at risk of high blood sugar during and after surgery. The purpose of anesthesia is to immobilize the body. This happens when chemicals are used to block signals to the brain.

During this time, a person’s blood sugar could start to rise. If a person does not have diabetes, it shouldn’t cause too much of a problem and glucose should drop on its own. People with diabetes, on the other hand, could end up with an extended hospital stay, and more complications. Excess sugar in the blood can also increase the risk of infection. Bacteria love to feast on sugar.

Next: Keep your electrolytes balanced to avoid this dangerous risk.  

3. Seizures

Woman having a medical emergency
Woman having a medical emergency | miriam-doerr/iStock/Getty Images

Most people at risk for having a seizure during or after surgery have a preexisting condition. People with epilepsy or other neuromotor disorder are at a higher risk. It is rare for a person without a previous condition to be at risk, but it does happen.

If a patient is going through withdrawals from alcohol, or they have an electrolyte imbalance, they could have a seizure during or after surgery. It is essential to discuss any and all issues with drugs and alcohol with the doctor before anesthesia is administered.

Next: If you have high blood pressure, watch out for this one.

4. Stroke

Surgical patient going under anesthesia
Patient going under anesthesia | Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

Usually, when a person is under general anesthesia, their blood pressure drops significantly. People with high blood pressure or hypertension could have an adverse reaction to the drugs. In some cases, blood pressure can even rise, causing a stroke to occur.

The people with the highest risk of stroke during or following surgery are older adults, people with uncontrolled hypertension, and those who have already had a stroke in the past. Your doctor can help advise you of your stroke risk before surgery.

Next: Weight and age increase this dangerous anesthesia risk.

5. Heart attack

Man experiencing a heart attack
Man having a heart attack | seb_ra/iStock/Getty Images

Anesthesia is administered to relax the muscles and block pain. Because the heart is a muscle, it can also relax. If too much anesthesia is given, the heart can stop beating altogether.

Although anesthesiologists are experts in their field, they do on occasion make mistakes with dosing. This is more likely to happen if a person is obese because weight plays a huge factor in effective and lethal drug dosages.

Next: Most people have a healthy fear of this one.

6. Coma

Patient in a hospital bed
Patient in a hospital bed | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

Another possible risk of anesthesia, although very rare, is a coma. When general anesthesia is used for surgery, they are not putting you to sleep; they are inducing a controlled coma. The idea is to reverse the coma once the procedure is over.

In some rare cases, the doctors are unable to wake a person after surgery. The effects of the drugs may need more time to leave the body. This reaction is so rare there is nothing that can be done to prevent it, as everybody reacts a little differently to the analgesics.

Next: You might not even remember this risk.

7. Memory loss

Woman holding her head
Woman holding her head | Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images

Here is a scary risk of surgery most people are never told about. Imagine counting backward one minute, and then waking up completely confused the next. Some disorientation is normal, but we’re talking about full on amnesia.

Some people have come out of surgery without any memories from before the procedure. People that are at the highest risk are those with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and older individuals.

Next: Anytime nerve signals are blocked, this can occur. 

8. Difficulty urinating

Public restrooms
Bathroom stalls | DenBoma/iStock/Getty Images

Some anesthesia causes disruption in a person’s ability to go to the bathroom. It’s often seen after women give birth and the epidural is removed. Difficulty urinating results from blocked signals from the urinary tract to the brain and back again.

Anesthesia blocks the signals for pain, but it also makes it hard for you to release your bladder. Because those signals can stop working, you may need a catheter in order to eliminate your fluids. This comes as a surprise to many postpartum women.

Next: There’s a reason this risk didn’t make No. 2 on the list.

9. Ileus

Constipated woman
Woman with ileus | KittisakJirasittichai/iStock/Getty Images

Just like you can have a hard time urinating after general anesthetics, you could also have ileus, which basically means that you are unable to pass a bowel movement.

Most people do not realize that in order to go No. 2, your brain and your bowels need to communicate with each other. After surgery, those lines of communication can be lost, making it almost impossible to do your business without assistance.

Next: You might have a new dependency after surgery.

10. Ventilator dependence

Man in hospital bed
Man on ventilator | Trish233/iStock/Getty Images

Once an anesthesiologist has put you under, they usually need to intubate. Doing this helps keep your airways open, and ensure you keep breathing through the procedure.

In some cases, patients are unable to breathe for themselves after the surgery ends. Breathing is run by the central nervous system, which is cut off by anesthesia. This can be life-threatening, especially if the person never regains control.

Next: When awake, coughing prevents this from occurring. 

11. Aspiration

Patient about to be intubated
Patient being intubated | gmast3r/iStock/Getty Images

No, we’re not talking about life goals or what you aspire to in the future. We’re are talking about accidentally breathing fluids into the lungs. This can be as dangerous as drowning, although not as fast. In many cases, aspiration can happen during surgery while the patient is under anesthesia.

Once under anesthesia, the medical team will need to monitor your breathing. They also need to ensure that your airway is clear from fluids and debris.

Next: This could send you back to the hospital. 

12. Pneumonia

Woman taking a sick man's temperature
Man sick in bed | yacobchuk/iStock/Getty Images

This dangerous post-anesthesia risk is responsible for a lot of readmissions into the hospital after surgery. If during a procedure a patient inhales fluid, vomit, or food, they may not know about it until recovery. Age also plays a factor with this one.

Aspiration of fluids can cause pneumonia, which can be life-threatening if not addressed quickly. Usually, if caught in time, antibiotics can resolve this complication. Tell your doctor immediately if you have trouble breathing after surgery or you have coughing that won’t subside. 

Next: 100,000-180,000 Americans die from this annually.

13. Blood clots

Man laying in a hospital bed after surgery
Patient in a hospital bed | gorodenkoff/iStock/Getty Images

Anytime anesthesia is used, it disrupts the normal functions of the body. This includes blood circulation. Making matters worse is the extended period of time the patient is in bed.

During surgery, the patient’s muscles are completely relaxed from the drugs. This can cause blood to pool in areas. If normal circulation is not restored quickly, blood clots can form and lead to blockages in blood flow. Every five minutes, someone in America dies from a blood clot, reports Science Daily. Surgery only increases this risk.

Next: This dangerous anesthesia risk is inherited. 

14. Malignant hyperthermia

Nurse taking a patient's temperature
Nurse taking a patient’s temperature | macniak/iStock/Getty Images

Of all the dangerous anesthesia risks, malignant hyperthermia is one that is hereditary. This means that if members of your immediate family have this reaction, you are likely to have it as well.

This is a serious condition that causes a person to run a very high fever. It can also cause severe muscle contractions when the drugs are administered. If malignant hyperthermia is a concern, a doctor can test for it before putting you under.

Next: This could lead to a lifetime of mistrust and fear of doctors.

15. Anesthesia awareness

Surgeons operating on a patient
Team of surgeons operating on a patient | santypan/iStock/Getty Images

This anesthesia risk might sound more like a nightmare than a medical problem. Anesthesia awareness is not a charity; it refers to patients that are conscious during surgery.

That’s right. You can wake up while a doctor is cutting you open. You will not be able to scream or alert the medical staff because you will be paralyzed. In some cases, the patient recalls every instance of pain and every conversation in the operating room.

This complication can lead to PTSD, depression, and other mental health problems. It can also make it difficult to trust anything your doctors tells you in the future.