How safe is anesthesia?

Risks for administration of anesthesia are determined by the nature of your surgery. Your risks of anesthesia will be determined by providing complete medical and health information to your Anesthesiologist. Any questions you may have on this topic will be best answered during your pre-anesthetic evaluation.

Modern anesthesia, even for patients with serious health issues, is very safe with only minor side effects. However, even when administered with care and precision, potentially life-threatening situations do happen occasionally.

Over the last twenty years, better understanding of how the human body responds to surgery and anesthesia along with more modern technology and improved anesthetic agents have served to dramatically increase safety and decrease complications from anesthesia and surgery. Anesthetic mortality rates, as high as 1/15,000 prior to 1980, are now less than 1/200,000 for patients undergoing elective procedures in good health.

You can lessen the risk of harm before your procedure by carefully discussing your health concerns with your Anesthesiologist.

What types of anesthesia are available?

There three kinds of anesthesia modality are available for your procedure:

  1. Monitored anesthesia care (MAC) is primarily used for procedures that are short and do not require the surgeon to cut into muscle or bone. Painkillers and sedatives are administered via IV while the region around the surgical site is numbed with a local anesthetic. You can choose to sleep lightly or remain awake. If you are uncomfortable in any way, either your Anesthesiologist can increase the sedatives or the surgeon can inject more local anesthesia.
  2. Regional anesthesia is primarily used for surgery on the arms, legs, lower abdomen, or for childbirth. As with monitored anesthesia, sedatives are administered via IV catheter and you may remain awake or choose to sleep lightly. A local anesthetic is injected to block nerve impulses surrounding the site of the surgery. The area will feel numb within a few minutes and will remain numb for up to 24 hours.
  3. General anesthesia is primarily used for more extensive surgery, such as brain, heart, abdominal, or chest surgery. Sedatives will be administered via IV catheter, which will render you completely unconscious throughout the surgery.

In some cases, a combination of general and regional anesthesia may be necessary. Your Anesthesiologist will recommend your personal anesthetic choice following your pre-anesthetic evaluation, taking into account your current health, preference, and type of procedure.

What is an anesthesiologist?

Your Anesthesiologist is a physician who has obtained a four-year undergraduate degree, four years of medical education, and at least four years of residency training. Anesthesiologists must be certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology.
Your Anesthesiologist is a specialist; a physician responsible for pre-anesthetic evaluation, anesthetic care during surgery, and post-operative management of issues relating to anesthesia and surgery.

Our entire team at AZ Heart Anesthesiology is board certified or soon to be. Meet our staff!

What should you discuss with your Anesthesiologist?

Here are some things you can discuss with your Anesthesiologist to give you the best possible experience:


  • Inform your Anesthesiologist about allergic reactions to medications, adhesive tape, latex, or IV dye.
  • Inform your Anesthesiologist of the medications you are currently taking or may have taken in the recent past. Certain drugs can interact with anesthesia medications and cause adverse reactions.
  • Inform your Anesthesiologist regarding any adverse reactions or side effects you had during previous anesthesia experiences.
  • Inform your Anesthesiologist about your smoking habits, alcohol, consumption, marijuana use, or illicit drug use. Such habits can interact with anesthetic medications or one can become intolerant to anesthesia.
What are the risks involved?

You should have peace of mind regarding your procedure, knowing that anesthesia-related complications are extremely rare.

Even when implemented perfectly, anesthesia can sometimes cause side effects and complications.

Common side effects are:

  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Drowsiness or feeling tired hours after surgery
  • Headache
  • Discomfort at the injection site

Rare Complications include:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Brain damage
  • Allergic reactions to medications
  • Malignant hyperthermia
  • Nerve damage (temporary or permanent paralysis)
  • Damage to teeth (caused by airway devices)
  • Loss of vision (temporary or permanent)
  • Inability or urinate
  • Kidney malfunction or failure
  • Death



Why do I need to adhere to the fasting guidelines?

For your safety, we require a fasting period prior to elective procedures. This is to empty the stomach in order to reduce the risk of aspirating stomach contents into the lungs – a serious potential complication called pulmonary aspiration. In severe cases, it can be fatal. Elective surgery will be cancelled if the fasting instructions are not adhered to.

In general, we need you not to eat any solid foods for 8 hours prior to your surgery and only drink clear liquids (small amounts of water, small amounts of clear tea, or apple juice) 4 hours prior to surgery. Also, do not chew gum 4 hours prior to surgery. Someone from your surgeon’s office or hospital staff will  contact you prior to your surgery to let you know when to stop solid foods and switch to clear liquids only.

Why do I need an Intravenous (IV) catheter before I go to sleep?

You will likely will have an IV catheter inserted prior to anesthesia. The IV catheter is necessary to give you intravenous fluids, administration of anesthetic medications, and/or administration of blood products.

What if I need a nerve block?

If a decision to administer a nerve block was made with your Anesthesiologist, the procedure will be done prior to your surgery in the preoperative area. If necessary, slight sedation may be given prior to the procedure. However, you will be largely awake for this procedure in order to communicate with your Anesthesiologist during the procedure, which is essential to avoid certain complications. The procedure usually takes 10-15 minutes. It is slightly more uncomfortable than starting an IV catheter. It is done with the help of an ultrasound machine to visualize your nose and blood vessels. Your family member can stay with you, if you prefer, during this procedure. Once completed, the nerve block sets in within 15-20 minutes and can last up to 24 to 36 hours. The nerve block gives you superior pain relief as compared to intravenous narcotics that are used for general anesthesia.


What should I expect during the operation?

Once the surgeon, Anesthesiologist, and operating room nurses are ready for your surgery, a staff nurse and anesthesia provider will wheel you back to the operating room. Operating rooms are cold and bright. A warming blanket will be provided to you as you enter the operating suite. Once in the operating room, you’ll be asked to move onto the operating table. If you cannot move yourself, operating room staff will assist you. Once on the operating table, you’ll be connected to multiple monitoring devices. Then the Anesthesiologist will give you oxygen to breathe from a mask. At the same time, the Anesthesiologist will give you medications to render you unconscious. You will not remember anything hereafter.

At the end of the operation, the Anesthesiologist will wake you up. You might hear voices asking you to breathe or move. Then you will be taken to the recovery room.

In the recovery room, the nurses will be in close communication with your Anesthesiologist to provide you with pain medications, nausea medications, and help you with any other issues you might have.


Where will I wake up?

The time to recover from anesthesia is variable and depends on the medications used, the length of the surgery and the patient’s health. You will wake up and recover from the anesthesia in the postanesthesia care unit (PACU). Nurses with specific training in PACU or ICU nursing will closely monitor your vital signs and overall recovery. When you’ve met the criteria for discharge, you’ll be released into the care of general hospital staff or your personal caretakers.

How will I wake up?

You may experience drowsiness and mild confusion as you recover from general anesthesia. If you are also experiencing pain or nausea, tell your nurse. Medication will be administered to make you comfortable. You may feel drowsy or tired for a couple of days afterwards (some patients experience this for longer periods of time). A sore throat may be experienced after anesthesia, but should disappear within 24-48 hours.

Will I be nauseous after surgery?

Some patients may experience nausea after surgery. This may be caused by a number of factors: the anesthetic drugs, the surgical procedure, or multiple other factors. Tell your Anesthesiologist if you have experienced nausea and/or vomiting after previous surgeries or anesthetic administration. In addition, if you typically experience motion sickness, let your Anesthesiologist know. Your Anesthesiologist will plan appropriate medication for your procedure to prevent post-procedure symptoms of nausea and/or vomiting.

Will I have pain after surgery?

Generally, narcotics/pain medications are often given as part of anesthetic regimens to provide pain relief during and after surgery. However, you may require more medication when you arrive in the recovery room. If you do experience pain, let your nursing staff know. After a period, the nursing staff will contact an Anesthesiologist who will assess you and may prescribe additional pain medications to comfort you.

What are spinal heachaches and what are the causes?

In administering spinal or epidural anesthesia, a needle will be passed through the dura (the membrane column that encases the spinal cord and houses cerebral fluid). Sometimes this procedure creates a tiny leak in the dura, allowing spinal fluid out into the body. This puts negative pressure on the brain, which causes a headache.

Modern spinal needles are specifically designed to avoid this problem, making spinal headaches less likely.

When epidural anesthesia is administered, physicians use a larger needle than in spinal anesthesia. The medicine is injected outside the dura membrane. The likelihood of headache is higher in this type of anesthesia if the epidural needle does puncture the dura membrane. If you do develop a severe spinal headache, your Anesthesiologist will take care of this by prescribing you strict bed rest, plenty of oral or IV fluids, caffeinated drinks, pain medications, or a sterile epidural blood ‘patch.’

The sterile blood patch entails another carefully placed epidural needle through which your own blood is injected to seal the leak in the dura membrane.

How can I obtain a copy of my medical records?

You can contact the hospital or surgery center where you had your surgery to obtain a copy of your medical records.

Other issues...

If you have any other medical issues that you’d like to discuss with your Anesthesiologist, please contact our office at 480.256.1520.

Each patient’s experience will be different. While we have provided an accurate overview of your anesthesia experience and risks, we do not imply guarantees. We assign dedicated and experienced Anesthesiologists to suit each and every patient’s needs and to provide the best experience possible and support you through every step of your medical care.