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Is anesthesia really as safe as doctors say it is?

For a long time now, patients have been told that modern anesthesia methods are safer than ever, with mortality rates falling drastically over the last 30 years to only around one anesthesia-related death out of every 200,000 to 300,000 patients.

However, not all may be as it seems.

In fact, there's not exactly a clear consensus on this lower mortality rate. Studies that take into consideration the first 48 hours post-surgery show a mortality rate closer to one anesthesia-related death out of just over 13,000 cases. While those may be good odds, it's still not nearly as safe as some people in the medical community would have people believe.

Death isn't the only thing that patients have to fear from improper anesthesia practices, however. There are several other types of mistakes that could indicate medical malpractice on the part of the anesthesiologist:

-- Patients who receive too much anesthesia may die, but patients who receive too little may suffer agonizing pain during their surgeries.

-- Incorrect intubation can cause a patient to suffer severe, permanent damage to his or her throat or teeth.

-- Organ damage can sometimes occur if the anesthesia interacts badly with a medication that the patient is already on. Patients should be advised during their pre-surgery consults and screenings about which medications to stop and when to stop them in order to be safe.

-- A failure to monitor a patient's blood oxygen levels can cause heart failure or brain damage. Also, the anesthesiologist's responsibility doesn't end when surgery ends -- he or she should monitor the patient's recovery until it is clear that the effects of the anesthesia have worn off.

-- Nerve damage is another consequence of improper anesthesia, especially spinal epidurals. Patients can be left with anything from weakened legs or paralysis to urinary or fecal incontinence.

It isn't always easy for a patient or the patient's family to tell if the complications of anesthesia or an anesthesia-related death is malpractice or just an unavoidable tragedy -- and doctors aren't always eager to expose themselves to liability by admitting they made a mistake. That's why it's important to take your concerns to an attorney if you believe that malpractice might have been behind your anesthesia-related problems.

Source: The Anesthesia Consultant, "Anesthesia Facts For Non-Medical People: How Safe Is Anesthesia In The 21st Century?," accessed July 12, 2017

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