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Understanding risk

In modern anaesthesia, serious problems are uncommon.

Risk cannot be removed completely, but modern equipment, training and drugs have made it a much safer procedure in recent years.


To understand a risk, you must know:

  • How likely it is to happen.
  • How serious it could be.
  • How it can be treated.


The risk to you as an individual will depend on:

  • Whether you have any other illness
  • Personal factors, such as smoking or being overweight
  • Surgery which is complicated, long or done in an emergency.


Side effects and complications

  • RA = This may occur with a regional anaesthetic.
  • GA = This may occur with a general anaesthetic.


Very common and common side effects

RA GA Feeling sick and vomiting after surgery
  GA Sore throat
RA GA Dizziness, short-term blurred vision
RA GA Headache
RA GA Bladder problems
  GA Damage to lips or tongue (usually minor)
RA GA Itching
RA GA Aches, pains and backache
RA GA Pain during injection of drugs
RA GA Bruising and soreness
  GA Confusion or memory loss


Uncommon side effects and complications

  GA Chest infection
  GA Muscle pains
RA GA Slow breathing (depressed respiration)
  GA Damage to teeth
RA GA An existing medical condition getting worse
  GA Awareness (becoming conscious during your operation)


Rare or very rare complications

  GA Damage to the eyes
RA GA Heart attack or stroke
RA GA Serious allergy to drugs
RA GA Nerve damage
RA GA Death
RA GA Equipment failure

Deaths caused by anaesthesia are very rare. There are probably about five deaths for every million anaesthetics in the UK.


This information booklet has been modified from one in a series produced by: The Royal College of Anaesthetists

Further more detailed information, can be read in the publication “Anaesthesia Explained”, also produced by The Royal College of Anaesthetists.