Anesthesia: Fact vs. Myth

By on Mar 29, 2016

There are many anesthesia myths, and as scientists don't exactly know why anesthesia works on the body, it's easy to see why these myths proliferate. We have a list of anesthesia myths we've corrected with the truth so that you can keep your facts straight:

Myth: Epidurals can damage the baby before it is born.

FALSE. There is no scientific evidence that epidurals can cause damage to the baby as the amount of medicine that reaches the fetus is negligible. So if you choose to have an epidural while giving birth, you can do so while safely knowing that the epidural will not harm your child.

Myth: Smokers need more anesthesia than non-smokers.

TRUE. Aestheticians have noticed this for years and finally the science is proving the anestheticians right. The theory is that smokers have more irritated airways and require more pain medication to handle the breathing tubes used in surgery. Another finding? Smokers and those exposed to second-hand smoke usually need more pain medication after surgery as well.

Myth: Anesthesia works all at once, in a few seconds after being administered.

FALSE. There are actually four stages of general anesthesia, though they are quick so you may not notice them. Anesthesia used in surgery should only go through the first three stages though: Analgesia (loss of pain), Excitement, Surgical Anesthesia (relaxation, slowed breathing, ceasing eye movements), and Medullary Paralysis (breathing ceasing, along with other vital functions, leading to death).

Myth: There is only a small window of time that you can get an epidural during labor.

FALSE. You can receive an epidural any time during labor. It is up to you and your doctor when you should receive an epidural, if at all.

Myth: It is possible to wake up during surgery.

TRUE. It is extremely unlikely, however. There is only a 0.005% chance1! It is a condition called "anesthesia awareness," and happens when a patient regains consciousness while under general anesthesia. Doctors prevent this from happening by using brain-monitoring devices to measure a patient's consciousness. So it is extremely unlikely to experience this.

Myth: Obesity can increase the likelihood of complications.

TRUE. Patients who are obese may experience interference with their breathing while under anesthesia. Anesthesiologists also may have more difficulty determining the best dose for obese patients.

If you have an upcoming surgery or have a baby on the way, talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about the anesthesia process or your epidural options during labor.   |    American Society of Anesthesia   |   Encyclopedia Online

Pandit, J. J., Andrade, J., Bogod, D. G., Hitchman, J. M., Jonker, W. R., Lucas, N., Mackay, J. H., Nimmo, A. F., O'Connor, K., O'Sullivan, E. P., Paul, R. G., Palmer, J. H. MacG., Plaat, F., Radcliffe, J. J., Sury, M. R. J., Torevell, H. E., Wang, M., Hainsworth, J., Cook, T. M. and the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (2014), The 5th National Audit Project (NAP5) on accidental awareness during general anaesthesia: summary of main findings and risk factors. Anaesthesia, 69: 1089–1101. doi: 10.1111/anae.12826