The thought of undergoing general anesthesia for surgery can be stressful for many patients. However, there are several things you can do to ensure a positive experience and lessen the possibility of complications while you are under the care of an anesthesiologist.
1. Take a positive and empowered approach to your anesthesia. Studies show that patients who feel well informed about medical procedures have better outcomes than those who feel in the dark. As a patient, you have the right to be listened to and educated by your doctor and anesthesiologist. Embrace that right as your surgery approaches.
2. Ask who your anesthesiologist will be and confirm their qualifications. In some hospitals, a physician anesthesiologist will personally oversee your care throughout the surgery. However, in other facilities, an anesthesiologist may supervise a team of anesthesiology residents, assistants or nurse anesthetists who will provide your care. Confirm that an anesthesiologist will be on site during your surgery.
3. Ask for and carefully read all educational materials about anesthesia in order to fully prepare yourself for the procedure. General anesthesia not only blocks pain, but it relaxes the muscles of your airway and digestive tract to keep food and acid from moving from your stomach into your lungs. Typically, patients are told not to eat or drink for at least six hours prior to surgery, and it is imperative these instructions are followed for your safety. Patients may also be asked to stop taking certain medications, such as aspirin or prescription blood thinners, prior to surgery. Try to eat well and get as much sleep as possible in the days leading up to the procedure to ensure you are physically strong going in.
4. Ask about the complications associated with anesthesia and discuss any special medical conditions or physical characteristics that may put you at greater risk. For instance, patients with heart conditions or sleep apnea may require extra monitoring during anesthesia and older patients typically face more complications than younger patients. Be sure to make your emergency care wishes known to your doctors and loved ones before surgery.
5. Learn what to expect after anesthesia. Most patients feel sleepy and a bit confused as they begin to wake up. Other common side effects include upset stomach, vomiting, scratchy throat, dry mouth, hoarseness, shivering and grogginess. Some patients also complain of temporary memory loss.
It is common and normal for patients to be nervous about anesthesia. However, taking steps to educate and prepare yourself prior to the procedure can go a long way to ease your fears and lower the risk of complications.