What is anaesthetic awareness?

When you go into hospital for an operation, anaesthetics are normally used to prevent pain and discomfort. Local anaesthetics can be applied to numb a specific area of the body for certain types of minor surgery, but for any major operations, general anaesthetics are normally used. General anaesthesia is basically an induced state of sleep which should enable surgery to be performed without any awareness or pain. However, if not enough anaesthetic is administered, this can lead to a patient becoming semi-awake during the operation, often feeling intense pain but remaining unable to communicate; this situation is known as anaesthetic awareness.

Living with the effects of anaesthetic awareness

There are different types of anaesthetic awareness, with perhaps the most traumatic form being full consciousness during surgery with pain and total recall of the episode. In minor cases, a patient may have partial memories of conversations, events, pain, pressure, or difficulty in breathing during the operation. Sometimes, surgical errors – such as problems with a ventilator or the intubation process – may cause breathing difficulties and danger of suffocation.

Although patients who have suffered anesthetic awareness without feeling pain may not be particularly affected by their experience, those who recall pain or breathing problems can sometimes be afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have difficulty returning to employment. In these cases, extensive psychological counselling may be required. It should be noted that, occasionally, neurological and brain injuries sustained during the operation are incorrectly diagnosed and described as PTSD.

Making a claim for anaesthetic awareness

The clinical negligence team at Chance Hunter has substantial experience of dealing with cases of anaesthetic awareness and we understand how stressful the whole situation can be, especially for patients who are also having to deal with general recovery from a major operation. Our expert lawyers will be able to guide you through the process and pursue your claim on your behalf, relieving you of any extra burden. To find out how we can help, get in touch with Rukhsana Arif or phone 0845 4786 354.