Anesthesia poses risks. It disables your nerves and sedates you for invasive procedures, but the wrong amount of anesthesia can injure or kill you.
The record for anesthesia fatalities has improved from one death in every 5,000 patients (in the 1950s) to one death in every 250,000 patients (in the 2000s). But even with this 50-fold drop in deaths, anesthesia injuries still happen in about one out of every 20 patients. These errors can cause permanent nerve or brain injuries.
Below, you will learn about the causes and effects of an anesthesia injury and how to get injury compensation if you suffer one.
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What Are the Purposes of Anesthesia?
Your nerves carry signals between your brain and body. Sensory signals travel from your body to your brain. One sensory signal — pain — tells your brain when something has gone wrong with your body.
Pain signals start at the peripheral nerves in your skin, muscles, and organs. Almost any injury or disease can cause pain. Doctors and dentists use anesthesia to stop pain signals from traveling along the nerves during an invasive procedure like surgery.
Stopping these nerve signals has an additional benefit. The nerves also carry motor signals from your brain to your body. These signals tell your muscles and organs to move. Some motor signals require conscious thought, while others happen automatically.
When your body experiences pain or discomfort, your reflexes automatically react. While undergoing an invasive procedure, your muscles and even your organs might recoil when touched. Anesthesia stops motor signals from traveling along the nerves, paralyzing you so the surgeon can proceed.
During surgery, anesthesia performs several functions, including:
- Keeping you comfortable
- Preventing voluntary movements
- Paralyzing your reflexes
Anesthesia makes your surgery safer for you and easier for your surgeon.
Depending on the procedure, doctors and dentists use a variety of anesthetics, including the following.
Local anesthesia affects only the peripheral nerves near the location where the anesthetic is administered. Nerve signals get transmitted by ions in the neurons. Local anesthetics act as ion channel blockers that prevent the nerves from carrying pain signals to the brain and motor signals from the brain.
Procaine, the generic name for Novocaine, is a local anesthetic used for dental surgery.
Regional anesthesia affects an entire region of the body. Anesthesiologists achieve this effect by administering the anesthetic near a nerve root that branches off the spinal cord.
When anesthesiologists administer an epidural to an expectant mother, the anesthetic gets injected into the spinal cord where the nerve roots for the pelvis branch off. This blocks pain signals during labor and delivery.
General anesthesia usually includes at least two components. A paralytic blocks pain signals and motor signals. The paralytic could block ion channels or neurotransmitters from carrying nerve signals.
A sedative renders the patient unconscious. This can help keep the patient comfortable during long or particularly invasive procedures like chest or abdominal surgery.
What Are The Different Anesthesia Error and Injury Types?
Anesthesiologists report that they commit anesthesia errors in about 1.2% of cases. Analyses place the error rate at closer to 5%. The difference might come from the fact that many anesthesia errors do not cause harm.
For example, a drug mixup might be detected before the drug gets administered to the patient. Or an anesthesiologist might administer the wrong concentration of a drug, but it might provide the same anesthetic effect as the correct concentration.
Some common anesthesia errors and the injuries that can result from them include:
Sometimes, a medical provider cannot avoid an allergic reaction. If you did not know of an allergy before the reaction happened, and your medical files had no record of a prior reaction, a dentist or anesthesiologist might have no way to foresee your injury.
But suppose your allergic reaction came despite your warning to the healthcare provider or a notation in your records. The medical provider’s use of the allergen might constitute negligence.
Allergic reactions can cause a variety of anesthesia injuries ranging from discomfort to anaphylaxis or death.
An overdose happens when a patient receives too much anesthetic. This can happen when the doctor or dentist miscalculates the dose. It can also happen when the doctor requests or the pharmacy supplies the wrong concentration of anesthetic.
An overdose can kill or severely injure a patient. Too much anesthetic can paralyze the heart, sending the patient into cardiac arrest. It can also paralyze the chest muscles responsible for breathing.
An overdose of a general anesthetic can result in:
- Brain damage from lack of oxygen
Too much local or regional anesthetic can also cause an anesthesia injury. Local and regional anesthetics have neurotoxic effects in large doses. When a doctor or dentist administers too much, the patient can suffer permanent nerve damage.
An underdose of anesthetic can allow your nerves to send pain signals. For a local or regional anesthetic, the doctor or dentist may administer an additional dose before the procedure.
But for a general anesthetic, an underdose can cause a traumatic anesthesia injury called anesthesia awareness. This happens when an anesthesiologist administers enough paralytic to paralyze you but gives an underdose of sedative.
As a result, you remain awake during your procedure. Worse yet, you are paralyzed, so you cannot alert the doctors to your consciousness. An underdose can cause severe mental trauma.
Is an Anesthesia Injury Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice happens when any healthcare provider fails to meet the professional standard of care when rendering health, medical, dental, or surgical services. In many cases, you must show that the doctor or dentist made a mistake that no reasonable doctor or dentist would make.
In the case of anesthesia errors, this means that an unavoidable mistake probably will not qualify as medical malpractice. But an avoidable mistake will constitute malpractice and entitle you to injury compensation.
An anesthesia injury can cause nerve damage, a brain injury, or even death. If your injury lawyer can prove that the anesthesia injury resulted from the intentional or negligent actions of a healthcare provider, you may recover substantial compensation for yourself or your loved one.
Contact an Augusta Personal Injury Lawyer for Help With Your Claim
An anesthesia injury can leave you with serious physical and emotional injuries. It can also cause significant financial losses. To discuss your anesthesia injury and the compensation you can seek, contact Hawk Law Group for a free consultation. Our Augusta personal injury lawyers are standing by.