The wheels may have just been set in motion for a new way in which doctors administer anaesthetic. A small study carried out by the University of Cambridge has revealed that the measurement of brain activity could be a more accurate way of calculating how much anaesthetic is required. The current method of “putting patients to sleep” is based upon a patient’s weight, with more anaesthetic being administered the heavier you are. Whilst for the most part this is successful in safely putting patients under, doctors report that it is difficult to know for sure whether or not a patient is sufficiently unconscious.
Whilst very rare, it has been known for patients to come around from operations complaining that they were able to feel pain or could hear the operation. There is no way of testing whether or not that is case, but in theory a patient might be able to experience pain during an operation, if they outwardly appear to be adequately anaesthetised.
“Awareness during anaesthesia” is an extremely distressing condition, when a patient may remain immobilised by medication such that they cannot indicate to the operating team that they are awake and aware but are conscious of all that is going on around them and in the most rare and extreme cases, feel the pain of the surgery. Clarke Willmott have represented a number of such patients in claims over the years, where the psychological impact of the experience may be long lasting even where the pain is transient.
Dr Richard Marks, Vice-President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists has said “It’s actually very difficult to tell when a patient is asleep or not … we need something that is reliable, specific and easy-to-use to help us”. A solution to the problem is not as straightforward as prescribing the patient a little more anaesthetic for luck. Anaesthesia has its risks and even a small overdose can lead to stroke, heart failure and other life threatening conditions.
This recent research proposes that doctors can look at the electric signals in a patient’s brain to know how much anaesthetic would be required for that patient on that day. These signals, also known as “brain chatter”, vary each day and can be influenced by how much sleep you have and influences such as caffeine. A single patient may require more or less anaesthetic on different days, depending on their brain activity at that moment. Analysis of brain chatter is thought to be a much more accurate of the patient’s needs and should minimise the risk of over and under dose even further.
It must be noted that this research is in its infancy, with only 20 patients taking part in the trial. But these positive results are likely to lead to a wider investigation, which could ultimately see a change in practices throughout the world and make it even safer for patients to have general anaesthetics.
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