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    Mayo Clinic Q and A: Reduce your risk of side effects from anesthesia

a middle-aged man in a exam room with a medical staff person taking information

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I’m scheduled to have surgery next month. I’ve have never had general anesthesia before, and I’m nervous about it. I’ve heard of people getting sick and having other problems as result of anesthesia. Is there anything that can be done to make sure that doesn’t happen to me?

ANSWER: To help ensure a smooth surgical experience, ask to meet with your anesthesiologist before your procedure. She or he can review your medical history, and discuss your current health status and concerns. By having this conversation, and following the guidelines you’re given about eating, drinking and taking medications before your procedure, you can significantly reduce your risk of complications and side effects due to anesthesia.

It’s natural to be nervous. But as you consider your upcoming surgery, keep in mind that anesthesia is safe overall. The risk of serious complications happening as a result of anesthesia is much less than 1%, and the overall mortality risk from an anesthetic is less than 1 in 100,000. The risk of less serious side effects, such as nausea, vomiting or otherwise feeling ill after an anesthetic, also is low, with only about 1% to 5% of people experiencing those issues when preventive measures are taken before surgery.

Many anesthesiologists want to meet with their patients in person before a procedure. That’s especially true for patients undergoing a procedure that presents higher risks for complications. Part of the purpose of that discussion is to make sure that there are no medical issues that will interfere with the patient’s ability to safely receive anesthesia.

Tell your anesthesiologist about any existing medical conditions you have now or have had in the past, as well as any medications or supplements that you take. Using your medical history as a guide, the anesthesiologists can tailor the anesthetic you receive to your circumstances. While the delivery of anesthesia in today’s medical practice follows a standard approach, it’s typically individualized for each patient. The more information and details you can provide about your health history and current health status, the better.

Although it doesn’t apply in your situation because you haven’t had anesthesia before, it’s important for patients to tell their anesthesiologist if they have had unpleasant side effects or reactions to anesthesia in the past. If so, steps often can be taken to minimize or prevent those problems from recurring.

During the conversation with your anesthesiologist, you also should review the restrictions for eating, drinking and taking medication before your procedure. The general rule is to avoid consuming any solid food eight hours prior to the scheduled procedure, according to guidelines from the American Society of Anesthesiologists. But the specifics for your surgery could vary.

The amount of liquid you may have and whether or not you should take your usual medications the night before or the morning of your surgery will be determined in conjunction with your anesthesiologist and surgeon. In some cases, preparing to receive anesthesia may involve taking certain medications prior to your procedure.

By closely following all the directions that you receive from your care team about preparing for surgery, you’ll reduce your risk of experiencing complications and side effects as a result of anesthesia. If you have questions or concerns, you should talk to your anesthesiologist about them. The anesthesia care team can ease your nervousness and help you feel more comfortable. Their goal is to make the surgical experience as pleasant and safe as possible for each patient. — Dr. Alberto Ardon, Anesthesiology, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida


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