Anesthesia affects receptors in the brain, which may cause side effects following surgery. However, evidence that anesthesia causes long-term memory loss is inconclusive.
Some people may experience short-term memory loss after having surgery under general anesthesia. Further research is needed on whether this memory loss can be more long-term and whether anesthesia can increase the risk for dementia.
This article explores how anesthesia affects the brain and impacts memory. It examines the evidence that general anesthesia is linked to dementia and discusses other side effects.
Anesthetics act on the brain mainly
Older animal studies suggest that general anesthesia impacts γ-aminobutyric acid type A receptors (GABAARs) in the brain, and their activity continues after the anesthetic drug is gone from the body, causing persistent memory deficits.
Experts previously thought that delirium and postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) after surgery were separate entities. However, according to a
The researchers suggest that inflammation in the brain due to stress during surgery, vascular disorders, and previously undiagnosed neurodegenerative disorders may be risk factors for POCD.
A review in the British Journal of Anaesthesia noted the challenges in drawing any firm conclusions about POCD and dementia due to a lack of agreed definitions and consistency of testing in clinical studies.
The review notes that 10% of older adults have a persistent degree of cognitive decline up to 3 months after a surgical procedure. It suggests that older adults who receive general anesthesia may be more at risk of dementia, but more studies are needed to confirm this. However, there is no established guideline for what type of anesthesia is best in order to prevent POCD.
Regional anesthesia affects the whole nerve root or is injected in or near the spine. Local anesthesia is injected just into the skin.
Additionally, delivering general anesthesia by inhalation was linked with a higher incidence of dementia than non-inhalation methods. However, the authors note that scientists must conduct large-quality trials to confirm these findings.
Conversely, however, a large
If a person has concerns due to already experiencing early signs of dementia or having a family history of dementia, they can speak with their healthcare professional about the risks and benefits of optional surgical procedures.
The following are some common side effects of general anesthesia:
Additionally, older adults who may have poorer health and undergoing lengthy surgical procedures may be at risk of the following complications of general anesthesia:
Death due to general anesthetic is rare and occurs in approximately
The following are some questions people frequently ask about anesthesia.
Does anesthesia affect cognitive ability?
How long does it take for your brain to recover from anesthesia?
Where does anesthesia affect the brain?
Anesthetics affect target receptors in the brain and may have side effects. Delirium and memory loss are common short-term complications of general anesthesia, and some evidence suggests that longer-term memory loss may occur in some people.
However, more research is needed in order to confirm these initial findings. People who are concerned about the side effects of anesthesia should speak with their surgeon or anesthetist.