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How does the brain react while under anesthesia? Read on to discover some interesting facts about how the human brain responds while it is under general anesthesia.

Each year, more than 40 million people undergo surgical procedures which require general anesthesia.  For those who are having surgery there are many concerns regarding undergoing anesthesia and these issues are very common.  The two biggest questions anyone has is “Will I wake up after surgery?”, and the other is “Will I wake up during surgery?”  While surgical procedures are not without risk to the individual, it is reassuring to know that anesthesia has improved dramatically and has become much safer in recent years.

When was anesthesia first used?

During the 1940’s, for every one million patients who were operated on under total anesthesia, 640 would die.  However, by the ending of the 1980’s, the fatality rate was significantly diminished to four deaths per every 1-million people operated on under general anesthesia.  The improvements in the fatality rates associated with general anesthesia were due to an improvement in medical training and the incorporation of modern safety protocols.

What happens during anesthesia exposure?

There have been reports of people never quite being the same after undergoing a surgical procedure requiring general anesthesia. Other individuals report personal experiences after undergoing anesthesia which includes a reduced ability to concentrate, reduced attention span and other cognitive issues.  

The changes the brain undergoes while being exposed to anesthesia are so severe there have been reports of elderly people becoming demented after undergoing an operation.

What is Postoperative Cognitive Disorder?

People report many different mental changes after going through an operation under anesthesia and these issues can be very difficult to evaluate and measure objectively.  The cognitive impact of anesthesia is all bundled together into a term known as Postoperative Cognitive Disorder (POCD).  The condition is defined as the mental process of knowledge and it includes judgment, awareness, reasoning and perception.  People with POCD report the following symptoms:

  • Reduced ability to perform mathematical tasks
  • Easily tired and fatigued
  • Memory dysfunction
  • Lack of an ability to concentrate

Is Someone really sleeping when under anesthesia?

One of the greatest mysteries of using anesthesia during surgery is how someone can be temporarily rendered completely unresponsive during a surgical procedure and then wake up when it’s over.  

Recovering from surgical anesthesia is not simply waking up and the drugs wearing off, but the brain must also find its way back through a complex series of mazes and back to consciousness.

New research findings have hinted the human must pass through a variety of different steps on the path back to becoming conscious after anesthesia.  Dr. Andrew Hudson, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, and his colleagues provide vital clues about the process the brain uses to come back to consciousness after anesthesia. 

Researchers studying rodent brains under anesthesia found brain activity occurred in distinct clusters or clumps and that the brain did not jump between all these phases uniformly.  The patterns the brain goes through while recovering from anesthesia will depend on how much anesthesia the patient was given and the brain would spontaneously jump from one pattern of activity to another.

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