Heart, Lung Impacts of Anesthesia Trumped Cognitive Concern

Risk of cognitive problems from anesthetics not high priority for medical professionals in new study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Surgery can be a nerve-wracking process for patients. Many are concerned about potential side effects of the medicines used to numb pain and put them out for the procedure.

It’s common practice for doctors to administer some type of anesthetic to block pain and sedate patients during surgery.

But the risk of problems with thought process and memory following anesthesia was not a primary concern for doctors, according to the findings of a new study from Sweden.

"Discuss anesthetic side effects with your anesthesiologist."

The study was written by Jan Jakobsson, MD, PhD, of the Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues.

Anesthetics are medicines used to prevent pain during surgery. A general anesthetic affects the whole body and will cause a patient to go to sleep and wake up — likely not remembering the procedure.

As an anesthetic wears off, patients can experience side effects that affect brain processes. The effects can range from agitation to delirium or what’s called postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD).

The Swedish research team set out to study the level of concern and interest among anesthesia professionals regarding treating and preventing after-surgery side effects.

Dr. Jakobsson and team sent out Web-based surveys to 1,326 doctors and 1,300 nurses who worked with anesthetics.

Questions focused on personal opinions, work routines and how they handled reduced post-surgery brain function.

Of the 2,626 surveys, 52 percent were returned completed.

The respondents ranked heart and lung risks as their most important concern (98.97 percent), while 69 percent considered cognitive side effects important.

Respondents picked awareness with short-term memory as a more important concern than agitation, delirium or POCD.

Of the doctors and nurses surveyed, 10 percent and 9 percent respectively said they would be concerned about brain function side effects if they were receiving anesthesia.

The researchers found that 44 percent of respondents had routines in place for dealing with symptoms of brain function side effects.

The authors wrote that Swedish anesthesia professionals saw the risk of brain function problems as having “rather low importance."

The study was published online Aug. 19 by the peer-reviewed Annals of Medicine and Surgery.

The Swedish Society of Anesthesiologists and the Swedish Association of Health Professionals funded the study.

The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 19, 2014
Last Updated:
August 19, 2014