Risks and complications

There is no safer place in the world to be anaesthetised than in Australia.

Nevertheless, some patients are at an increased risk of complications because of health problems e.g. heart or respiratory disease, diabetes or obesity, age, and/ or because of the type of surgery which they are undergoing.

Infrequent complications include: bruising, pain or injury at the site of injections, temporary breathing difficulties, temporary nerve damage, muscle pain, asthmatic reactions, headaches, the possibility of some sensation or awareness during the operation (especially with caesarean section and some emergency procedures), damage to teeth and dental prostheses, lip and tongue injuries, and temporary difficulty in speaking.

Nausea and vomiting are quite common after certain types of surgery, and rare after other types. The type of anaesthesia used may also be a factor. Even with the use of modern medications, a small percentage of patients may experience nausea and vomiting that is difficult to control. If you have had difficulties in the past, please let your anaesthetist know.

There are also some very rare, but serious complications including: heart attack, stroke, seizure, severe allergic or sensitivity reactions, brain damage, kidney or liver failure, lung damage, paraplegia or quadriplegia, permanent nerve or blood vessel damage, eye injury, damage to the larynx (voice box) and vocal cords, pneumonia and infection from blood transfusion. Remember that these more serious complications, including death, are quite remote but do exist.

We urge you to ask questions. Your anaesthetist will be happy to answer them and to discuss the best way to work with you for the best possible outcome.

Risk of infections

Needles, syringes and intravenous lines are all used only once. They are new in the packet before your surgery commences and they are disposed of immediately afterwards. Cross infection from one patient to another is therefore not possible.

Blood transfusion

With modern surgery the requirements for blood transfusion are less common. All blood collected today from donors is carefully screened and tested but a very small risk of cross infection still remains.

Your anaesthetist is aware of these risks and only uses blood transfusions when absolutely necessary. For major surgery, your anaesthetist may supervise a system of collecting your blood during or after your operation, processing it and returning it to you. This is called blood salvage and sometimes this can avoid the need for a transfusion.