Risks and complications

With modern advances anaesthesia has become extremely safe. However, even with utmost care there can always be a potential risk for complications. The benefits and risks pertaining to surgery and anaesthesia will be carefully weighed up and explained to you before you have any operation. Very rare possible complications include:

  • An allergic reaction to an anaesthetic medication (anaphylaxis) – although this can be severe, appropriate treatment is on hand to enable the best chance of dealing with this effectively and immediately
  • Permanent nerve damage – which can cause numbness or paralysis (inability to move a part of the body), although this may be a result of the surgery itself. Most cases of nerve damage from regional anaesthesia techniques will resolve over a few months.
  • Death and morbidity – deaths due to anaesthesia are extremely uncommon with an estimated incidence of 0.5-0.8 per 100,000 anaesthetics. The higher risk patients are those who have pre-existing cardiovascular or respiratory disease before the operation. Improving cardiovascular fitness before surgery can significantly reduce those risks.

The risk of developing complications will depend on a number of factors including:

  • Past medical history – for example, whether you have any other serious medical conditions or illnesses
  • Personal factors – for example, smoking, body habitus, lifestyle, (if you smoke, stopping several weeks before your operation will reduce your risk of having breathing problems; likewise, losing weight will help reduce your risk)
  • The type of procedure – for example, whether it is a planned procedure or an emergency procedure, or whether it is a major or minor procedure
  • The type of anaesthetic – regional anaesthesia can have advantages over general anaesthetics in the right circumstances

The choice of anaesthetic given will depend on

  • The operation you are having.
  • The preexisting health problems you might be having.
  • Your preferences.
  • The anaesthesia equipment available in the hospital.

Last updated: September 23, 2019