Storrs, Carina. "The Hidden Dangers of Going Under." Scientific American Global. Scientific American, 18 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/hidden-dangers-of-going-under/>.
In hospitals across the world, people undergoing surgery use anesthesia to make surgery painless and relatively easy. Anesthesia has been in use since 1846, when ether was first used during surgery to make the procedure nearly painless. However, during the hundred and sixty eight year history anesthesia, few conclusive studies have been conducted regarding common reports of dementia, hallucinations, and amnesia that come up after surgery. Those who have investigated in the past have usually chalked up the incidents to the stress of surgery releasing underlying dementia or brain defects. However, a set of new studies conducted by Johns Hopkins, the University of Massachusetts, and a Hong Kong hospital, among others, suggest that in fact the anesthesia may be responsible for the issues, which are commonly known as postoperative delirium. Though the results are not able to show how anesthesia may cause delirium - a fact complicated by the fact that scientists do not even fully understand how general anesthesia works to induce unconsciousness - they do bring to light a troubling issue for those who are planning on undergoing surgery or have in the past. Typically the side effects show up while patients are undergoing surgery with general anesthesia, which is designed to put a patient into an unconscious state, however regional anesthesia, which is designed to numb pain coming from a specific part of the body, can also cause the same effects when it reduces electrical activity in the brain enough to qualify as general anesthesia. This drop in brain activity in those undergoing surgery with regional anesthesia happened in eighty seven percent of cases during another study. A doctor at Johns Hopkins, Frederick Sieber, suspects that these results may have been caused by an overdose of regional anesthesia. Additionally, age appears to be a factor. The article states that approximately fifty percent of those sixty or older felt the side effects of anesthesia, including severe disorientation and postoperative delirium, and that patients who developed delirium took far longer - up to a full year - to regain their mental abilities in memory and attention tests after undergoing surgery. Researchers believe that proteins that anesthetic drugs target are less common on the surface of neurons of patients over sixty.
These findings raise serious questions about the safety of using anesthesia and about how hospitals can proceed to minimize the incidence of these newfound side effects. Already doctors at Johns Hopkins are beginning to talk to elderly and other at-risk patients while the patients are undergoing surgery using regional anesthesia, which works to numb a specific part or parts of a patient's body. Other hospitals are also ensuring that patients are well hydrated and nourished and avoiding activities or medications that could alter brain activity. That hospitals are already changing policies to account for this new research shows how important this new research is. These new side effects may even prompt further research into how exactly general anesthesia works, perhaps allowing scientists to create better anesthesias without these potentially dangerous side effects.
The article was able to effectively introduce me to the history of anesthesia, postoperative delirium, and hospitals' preliminary responses to the data. It also backed up its claims with several separate new studies that have come to similar conclusions regarding anesthesia's effects on patients. However, I feel that the article could have more effectively proven its point with more quotes from experts. The article included only two quotes from experts in anesthesiology, and both were relatively vague. Additionally, the article only mentioned studies conducted on the elderly. Though the study stated that the effects surfaced primarily in those over sixty, they did not quote any studies involving patients under sixty to back up their claims. Overall, the article was interesting and got me interested in new research and the problems that anesthesia causes.