There are lots of things you should know about your anesthesiologist. You should know that an anesthesiologist is a real physician – with the same education requirements and lengthy residency as any other specialty. You should know that they do a lot more than help people go to sleep. Your anesthesiologist is in charge of coming up with a plan to get you safely and as comfortably as possible through surgery. They take all of your medical conditions into consideration and each plan is individualized. That’s why there are some very important things that your anesthesiologist expects you to know.
1. Your Health Can Affect Anesthesia
If you have ongoing heart, lung, liver, or kidney issues, it can impact not only how the anesthesia affects you but also how your body will eliminate it. General anesthesia is of particular concern with these health issues because it can take longer for you to regain consciousness after surgery.
2. Your Snoring Matters
Snoring is more than an annoyance to your partner. It’s also a potential warning sign for sleep apnea. If someone has noticed that you stop breathing or gasp for air during sleep, you need to mention it to your medical team prior to surgery. That’s because a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea might slow your breathing during the procedure. This heightens the effects of general anesthesia and can make it harder to wake up afterwards. Of course if you already know you have this condition, you should inform your anesthesiologist. If you use a medical device to control the apnea, bring it with you on your surgery date.
3. Habits Affect Anesthesia
We all want to put our best selves forward. It’s normal to fib a bit when it comes to our habits. Don’t lie to your anesthesiologist! They aren’t going to judge you but withholding information risks your life. If you smoke, be honest about how much. Heavy smokers often have lower oxygen baselines to begin with. One of an anesthesiologist’s roles during surgery is paying attention to the devices which monitor your vital signs. This includes a pulse oximeter attached to your finger, toe, or earlobe that measures blood oxygen levels. Your doctors need to be forewarned if there’s reason to believe these levels will be low. Plus, your lungs get irritated by smoking––smokers tend to cough excessively while under general anesthesia. For this reason, health care professionals often recommend patients complete a smoking cessation program prior to surgery.
Be forthcoming about alcohol use as well. Lots of people say they only drink a glass or two of wine, but in reality underestimate their drinking habits. If you are a regular drinker, you may require a higher amount of anesthesia and it may also affect how you emerge from anesthesia at the end of surgery. Studies have shown that chronic marijuana users may need more anesthesia compared to non-users, so it is important to be truthful about drug habits. The bottom line – don’t keep secrets from your doctor.
4. Supplements and Medication Affect Anesthesia
If your blood pressure isn’t controlled, any surgery has an elevated risk. However, if your blood pressure is well controlled on medications, these risks can be minimized. If you’re on blood pressure medication, then your risk with anesthesia is comparable to someone with normal blood pressure levels. Similarly, diabetes can affect surgery––your anesthesiologist will offer detailed information about how to take your diabetes medication prior to your surgery. Some medications and supplements can affect bleeding which increases risks during surgery. Make sure when you are asked about medications you include supplements and over-the-counter preparations as well as prescription drugs. Opioids in particular can increase your tolerance for sedation––meaning you may need more anesthesia in order to be put under.
5. Medical History Matters
There’s a reason the medical team keeps asking you questions. Some past events may impact how your body reacts to the drugs you’ll be given. If you have ever experienced anesthesia-induced nausea, the medical team needs to know. Be honest about any medical family secrets! Any history of family members with anesthesia related complications can indicate susceptibility to a rare but potentially life threatening condition called malignant hyperthermia. This occurs after the application of certain anesthetic gasses which can be avoided with prior knowledge.
Your anesthesiologist and the rest of the medical team want you to have a successful surgery. The only way that happens is if you’re upfront with them from the beginning.
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.