What are the benefits and risks?
Are there any side effects?
Benefits and risks of having an anaesthetic
Anaesthesia has made modern surgery possible. Sophisticated operations can be offered with a high degree of comfort and safety.
However, there are risks associated with having an anaesthetic. These may be weighed up against the likely benefits of the operation.
Everyone varies in the risks they are willing to take. Your anaesthetist will describe the risk to you, but only you can decide how much the risk affects your plan to have the operation you would like.
Thinking about risk
The risk to you as an individual depends on:
- Whether you have any other illness;
- Personal factors such as whether you smoke or are overweight; and
- Whether the operation is complicated, long, or done as an emergency.
To understand the risk fully you need to know:
- How likely it is to happen;
- How serious it could be; and
- How it can be treated if it happens.
The anaesthetist can also advise you whether there are any anaesthetic techniques that will reduce those risks.
Side effects and complications
Anaesthetic risks can be described as side effects or complications. These words are somewhat interchangeable, but are generally used in different circumstances, as shown below.
Side effects are the effects of drugs or treatments which are unwanted, but are generally predictable and expected. For example, sickness is a side effect of a general anaesthetic, although steps are taken to prevent it.
Complications are unwanted and unexpected events due to a treatment. However, they are recognised as events that can happen. An example is a severe allergic reaction to a drug, or damage to your teeth when inserting a breathing tube. Anaesthetists are trained to prevent complications and to treat them if they happen.
Index of side effects and complications
This index lists possible side effects and complications according to how likely they are to happen.
This chart shows what is meant in this booklet when a risk is described in words.
1 in 10
Someone in your family
1 in 100
Someone in a street
1 in 1,000
Someone in a village
1 in 10,000
Someone in a small town
1 in 100,000
Someone in a large town
For example, if something is ‘very common’ it means that about 1 in 10 people will experience it. It also means it will not happen to about 9 out of 10 people.
Click below to find out more about the differently occurring risks
For reference, RA stands for Regional Anaesthetic; GA stands for General Anaesthetic