For decades, death rates with modern medicine have been falling. Medical professionals have more information, more training, better technology and many other advantages. Procedures that were impossible in the not-so-distant past are routine today.
However, one disturbing trend shows that death rates linked to anesthesia are not getting better. In fact, they're trending in the opposite direction, as more and more people die after using general anesthesia.
Should we be alarmed by this trend?
Out of every one million patients who get full anesthesia, seven of them die. Within the next year, one out of every 20 patients pass away. For those who are over the age of 65, in the year after getting general anesthesia, a full 10 percent pass away.
Experts do note that there are many factors in play here. For instance, the higher rate for those over 65 who pass away within a year could be simple: These patients are already far closer to their life expectancy. The risks are higher for older patients who get anesthesia. They may have more health issues and other complications.
What types of complications are the worst? High blood pressure and general heart problems can be concerning. These are often the patients who pass away in the operating room, while on the table. It's a tragic and unexpected situation for the family, especially with routine surgery, but it happens.
Doctors' mistakes could cause a death when it never should have happened. For instance, a patient's file may note that he or she is allergic to the anesthesia, but the doctor may read the wrong file and distribute anesthesia anyway. In some cases, doctors could make mistakes while trying to correct an unexpected complication. They may need to insert a breathing tube into a person's windpipe, for instance, and it can be deadly if done incorrectly.
Weight is a significant factor
Weight also plays a big role. To keep blood pressure from dropping too far, patients get an anesthetic at the start of the procedure. Doctors have to estimate exactly how much will be needed. When patients are overweight, they say this estimation is incredibly hard to make. If they administer too much or too little, issues may arise.
Doctors themselves admit that communication is critical in an operating room, especially when there is an emergency. If the team isn't working together properly, a patient could pass away when prompt action could have saved his or her life.
In the modern era, we often think medical procedures are safe and routine. We trust doctors and medical professionals to do their jobs perfectly, every time. We assume that things like anesthesia are easy to use without complication. Unfortunately, families may want to keep their legal options in mind because the fatality trends show that these assumptions are not always true.
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