Frequently asked questions
Below, you will find a list of frequently asked questions about anaesthesia. They include basic information that may be valuable for future patients.
How dangerous is a narcosis?
In the last decades, the anaesthetic risk has decreased clearly. Currently, the chance of an incident of anaesthesia with fatal outcome is less than 1:250,000. Compared to that figure, the risk of sustaining a fatal road accident is about 20 times higher.
Is it right that the memory deteriorates after a general anaesthesia?
It is well established that the so-called short-term memory – i.e. the memory for things you have just made a mental notice of – may be affected after a narcosis. This phenomenon, however, will completely disappear within some hours or days in case of a normal course of narcosis. There is no scientific evidence available indicating that disorders lasting for a longer time or disorders of long-term memory may occur.
Why am I not allowed to eat and drink before a narcosis and when will I be allowed to eat or drink again?
During a narcosis, not only consciousness is lost, but cough and swallowing reflexes are suppressed as well. In order to avoid that gastric contents are vomited under anaesthetic and then may get into the lungs, the stomach should be as empty as possible. As soon as after recovery from anaesthesia consciousness is regained completely, you will be allowed – depending on the surgery – to drink small quantities of liquid and later to eat solid food as well.
Is it possible that I will wake up during a narcosis?
Waking up during a narcosis is a well-known, but fortunately very rare event. In virtually all known cases, “waking up”, however, is limited to hearing sounds and voices in the operating theatre. With modern anaesthesia techniques, there is no danger of completely waking up or even feeling pain. After the last narcosis, I felt terribly sick.
Is it not possible to avoid that?
Unfortunately, there are people more prone to vomiting than others. The same is true for vomiting after general anaesthesia as well. For most cases, there are drugs that effectively control this so-called post-operative vomiting. However, there is no absolute guarantee for a complete prevention or control of the sick feeling and vomiting in sensitive persons.
Why should I put off my surgery because of a cold?
A cold weakens the body defences and increases the risk of a wound infection or pneumonia after the surgery. Therefore any intervention that is not urgently necessary should be put off.
What is better, general anaesthesia or regional anaesthesia?
Generally the following applies: The technique necessary for the intervention should be chosen. For surgeries performed on the legs, buttocks or some abdominal operations (e.g. hernia operation or prostate operation), a regional anaesthesia is completely sufficient. Furthermore, this method provides the advantage that consciousness is not lost and cough and swallowing reflexes are preserved.
Is the application of a regional anaesthesia painful?
What you feel is the desensitisation of the skin. For doing this, a local anaesthetic is injected using a very thin cannula. This may cause a burning sensation for some seconds. The actual insertion of the regional anaesthesia cannula is then felt as blunt pressure only.
Is it right that a regional anaesthesia may cause paraplegia?
This is possible in pure theory, but only if additional health risks are present such as an abnormal bleeding tendency. This could cause a bleeding in the surroundings of the spinal canal, which narrows spinal nerves and so might cause a paraplegia syndrome. These incidents, however, are extremely rare and you do not have to expect an injury of a nerve in daily surgery routine.
How is it that you may have a headache after regional anaesthesia?
For the puncture of the spinal canal – the spinal cord itself is not touched – a small hole is pierced into the membrane of the spinal cord using the cannula. This may cause an outflow of spinal fluid, which is connected to the cerebrospinal fluid, after the puncture. This reduces the “padding” of the brain, which may cause headache. The use of modern, very thin cannulas has reduced the risk of the so-called postspinal headache to less than 5 %.
I would like to have a regional anaesthesia, but I still do not want to notice anything of the surgery. Is that possible?
When it is ensured that regional anaesthesia has a sufficient effect for the surgery, a drug causing twilight sleep can be administered via an infusion. This means that you can be waken up, but you will „sleep through“ most of the surgery.
When I get a peridural anaesthesia for childbirth, will I then still have contractions and will I feel them?
The actual purpose of peridural anaesthesia for childbirth is that labour pain is clearly alleviated and so becomes more tolerable, but the labour activity itself is maintained. This may even lead to a slight acceleration of the outcome of labour.
Can I watch how the surgery is performed?
Normally not, since for reasons of hygiene in the operating theatre, the part of the body being operated is covered with a sterile drape and is accessible to the surgeon only through a small window. Exceptions are arthroscopic interventions (e.g. arthroscopy of the knee joint). These operations can be followed via a television monitor.