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Patients who are not fully unconscious during an operation and may have felt discomfort and distress during the process are said to have suffered from 'anaesthetic awareness' which can be a horrific experience in the most severe cases. One in every hundred people who undergo an operation in the UK has anaesthetic awareness and 10 percent of these patients feel intense pain and discomfort. Many of these incidents arise as a result of medical negligence by the anaesthetist which may be grounds for a personal injury solicitors compensation claim.

Responsibilities of the Anaesthetist

The anaesthetist is responsible for checking a patient's medical history, checking that all equipment is functioning correctly, that syringes are labelled correctly and contain the correct drugs. If any of these criteria are not met then it is possible that anaesthetic awareness may occur and a compensation claim against the medical institution for pain and distress will most likely be successful.

Nightmare Scenario

Anaesthetic awareness is the stuff of nightmares which is what some of the victims often have to put up with. Not only can there be intense pain during the operation, there can be far reaching chronic psychological implications, with feelings of disaster, panic and suicidal tendencies. In cases where mothers have anaesthetic awareness during a caesarean section, they often resent their baby for the pain and suffering thereby precluding them from the natural desire for more children.

Awards of Compensation

In the UK a solicitors medical negligence claim is intended to compensate a person who has been injured as a result of negligent treatment by a health care provider that has caused personal injury, pain and suffering and consequential losses. Negligence is often not entirely obvious and requires consideration, review and analysis by specialists. In order to succeed in a medical negligence compensation claim for anaesthetic awareness it is necessary to show that :-

  • the health care provider owed a duty of care to the patient
  • the duty of care was breached
  • the patient suffered harm
  • the patient's injury was caused by the breach of duty
  • The Duty of Care

    In a solicitors medical negligence case it is usually not difficult to establish a duty of care which exists once a doctor-patient relationship has been established. Even after the duty of care is proven and it has been shown that the health care provider breached that duty of care by failing to meet the requisite standard of care it will not be possible to recover compensation unless the claimant suffered injuries that were as a direct result of the breach of that duty of care.

    Compensation Claim

    The first step in pursuing a medical negligence compensation claim for anaesthetic awareness involves obtaining and reviewing medical records and other pertinent information by an anaesthetic awareness solicitor and by a specialist medical consultant to determine whether or not the health care professional failed to meet the appropriate standard of care. If it is determined that there is case worth pursuing then written notice of the claim is given to the individuals or entities that are believed to have been responsible.

    Anaesthesia Solicitors

    If you had anaesthetic awareness during an operation you will need to discuss the possibility of making a medical negligence compensation claim against the anaesthetist and hospital or clinic with a specialist anaesthesia solicitor. Psychological injury can last a lifetime and it is your legal right to receive compensation for the pain and anguish that you have experienced.

    Anaesthesia Complications

    Fortunately, major side effects from having anesthesia are not common. Complications of anesthesia are somewhat related to your overall health at the time of surgery, how you respond to anesthesia and the kind of anesthesia used.

    In some cases, your age can become a factor in anesthesia complications. Complications increase with age as well as with the medical complications that come with age, such as heart conditions, circulatory diseases and nervous system disorders. You should be screened for these diseases before undergoing general anesthesia.

    Local and regional anesthesias are less risky than general anesthesia. Nevertheless, there are risk factors for these types of anesthesia you should know about. High doses of local anesthetic can be toxic to the body and can affect the way you breathe, your heart beat, your blood pressure and other bodily functions. Even in cases where local anesthesia is used, equipment to prepare yourself for emergencies should be made available.

    In regional anesthesia, a nerve block is used to block all the nerves distal to (past) the nerve that is blocked. Nerve damage can occur in such cases that can lead to residual numbness, pain or weakness. It is imperative that the practitioner gets close to the nerve but not inject directly into the nerve or there will be compromise to the nerve that can be permanent. Spinal or epidural anesthesia carries the risk of toxicity to the body if the anesthetic becomes absorbed into the bloodstream. You can also get a blood clot at the site of the anesthetic injection (a localized blood clot) as well as bruising or localized swelling.

    A common complication of a spinal anesthetic is what's called a spinal headache. This is caused by leakage of the spinal fluid into the tissue space and a relative lack of spinal fluid around the brain. It happens to about 1-2 percent of all people who undergo spinal anesthesia. A treatment called a "blood patch" is used to cover the hole that is leaking the cerebrospinal fluid.

    General anesthesia can cause serious side effects. If you are otherwise healthy, the complication rate is low. General anesthesia suppresses the reflexes of the throat so that you can get aspiration of fluid into the lungs. Coughing and gagging on the tube are possible. If the endotracheal tube is misplaced into the esophagus, one can have a lack of oxygen to the system and you can suffer a period of hypoxia.

    The ET tube can also cause high blood pressure and a rapid heart rate. Injury can occur to the teeth upon insertion of the endotracheal tube and there can be swelling to the larynx, injury to the larynx and a sore throat. Stroke can occur as a result of general anesthesia and death occurs in about one out of 250,000 persons getting general anesthesia, with higher rates in the very sick or elderly.

    Awareness of the surgery during general anesthesia is extremely rare. Doctors use a lot of monitoring devices to make sure you are not awake during the procedure. Nevertheless, it can occur in very rare situations and can be quite frightening.

    One can have allergic or other reactions to anesthetic medications. These are also very uncommon. If you know you've had a problem with general anesthesia, speak to your anesthesiologist about it so no further problems can occur.

    There is a rare and potentially lethal condition found in general anesthesia known as malignant hyperthermia. In malignant hypothermia, the temperature of the individual rises to near fatal levels. It is associated with inhalation anesthetics, as well as with the medication called succinylcholine, which is a muscle relaxant.



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    The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here