A relatively rare but frightening surgical experience -- waking from anesthesia while under the knife -- is under-recognized and under-treated at hospitals and other surgery settings, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations said. Joined by two societies for anesthesia professionals, the JCAHO released an "issues alert" saying awareness during anesthesia afflicts 20,000 to 40,000 people out of 21 million who undergo general anesthesia each year. The condition most often occurs during major trauma cases, heart surgery and emergency Caesarean sections, when patients receive lighter doses of anesthesia because of potential stress on the heart or the unborn baby. Because immobilizing drugs often are administered as well, patients usually cannot signal that they see, hear or feel what is happening, the JCAHO said.
Several medical studies in the past few years have drawn attention to the scope and nature of the problem. While anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists have increased their focus on awareness during surgery, the entire healthcare organization must be involved in reducing the problem, JCAHO president Dennis O'Leary said. Read the alert. -- by John Morrissey