General anesthesia is usually safe and works as intended, putting the patient in a sedated state that allows doctors to operate without patients ever feeling or remembering it. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone. About one in 1000 experiences the truest example of a waking nightmare.
Anesthesia awareness is when a patient wakes up in the middle of the operation but is still paralyzed by the effects of the anesthesia. This means that they sometimes are able to feel everything without being able to make it stop or alert the roomful of doctors and nurses standing over them.
The effects of anesthesia, contrary to popular belief, have very little in common with sleeping. The human brain is actually in its most active state when a person is sleeping, but when they are under general anesthesia, the brain is suspended and operates at a minimal level.
Doctors aren’t really sure why this is, but they believe that it helps to explain why some people experience anesthesia awareness. They believe that there is some kind of interference that disturbs the transmission of chemicals across the membranes of the brain. The phenomenon is a subject of ongoing research.
Dr. Alexander Hannenberg, one of the researchers, also notes that human error or equipment malfunction is also likely causes of anesthesia awareness. People with histories of alcohol or drug abuse are more at risk, as are patients with heart or lung problems.
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