Busting myths and misconceptions on anaesthesia

Nearly everyone has heard a story, or has something to tell about anaesthesia.

We will attempt to bust some common myths and misconceptions about anaesthesia.

Myth 1: Spinal/epidural anaesthesia causes back pain

Studies have shown that there is no increase in incidence of backache after spinal/epidural anaesthesia.

Myth 2: Overdose of anaesthesia

This is a very commonly used term amongst non-medical people. It has been used to explain every mishap for which they cannot find a cause.

There are various aspects to this.

It is not proper to label all untoward incidents as "overdose of anaesthesia". This is an ambiguous statement.

The drugs are given as per the dosage scheduled, and according to the condition of the patient.

An international survey reveals that the incidence of mishaps in anaesthesia are 0.2 per cent.

This is a very low rate compared to other specialities, but when it does occur, it is distressing not only to the patients and their relatives, but also to the attending doctors.

Myth 3: Anaesthesia is associated with inhalation of chloroform or ether

In modern anaesthesia practice, chloroform has long been abandoned and ether has almost been phased out because of its side effects.

These days, we have better agents than chloroform.

The current practice is to use drugs that are administered into your veins to induce sleep in a peaceful manner.

In smaller children, for fear of pain or injections, the anaesthesia may be induced by inhalation of newer non-chloroform inhalational agents.

Myth 4: Anaesthesiologists leave the operating room once patient 'goes off to sleep'

Modern practice of anaesthesia demands close and constant observation and regular updates of the situation.

The surgery and anaesthesia actually go hand-in-hand, and anaesthesiologists continuously maintain the stability of the patient.

The anaesthesiologist is the ever-vigilant team leader with full control of the operation theatre while surgery is in progress.

Myth 5: Spinal anaesthesia causes impotence

Spinal anaesthesia does not affect virility, fertility or the ability to reproduce.

It does not result in impotence.

Myth 6: Anaesthesiologists are technicians and paramedics

It is a common misperception that anaesthesiologists are technicians or paramedics, when in fact they are extensively trained medical specialists.

To become an anaesthesiologist, a doctor must successfully complete five years of a basic medical degree, an internship, and at least three years of medical officer training, before undergoing intensive training in anaesthesia for four years, after being selected through a series of examinations and interviews.

A consultant anaesthesiologist will spend at least five years - after he/she is qualified as a specialist - training and taking further examinations in anaesthesia, a process overseen by the Malaysian Society of Anaesthesiologists.

Myth 7: We are the 'gas' doctor

We are always known as the "gas" doctor. History shows that anaesthesia is achieved with the inhalation of anaesthetic gases, and hence, the name.

However, anaesthesia has advanced to greater heights, and our techniques have been substantially refined.

We are not restricted to using inhalational agents, and the substances used to achieve the effect have been multiplying.

Myth 8: Anaesthesia wears off before surgery if there is a dosage miscalculation

There is often a misconception that anaesthetic drugs given at the beginning of a surgery are calculated to last for the expected duration of surgery without any top-up, and that miscalculations will result in the anaesthesia wearing off prior to the end of surgery.

The fact is, anaesthesia will continue as long as the surgery is ongoing, either by the patient continuously inhaling anaesthetic gases, or by continuous infusion of anaesthetic drugs via the vein.

This will be stopped once the surgery is completed.

Myth 9: The risk of anaesthesia is less if the surgery is minor

This does not happen. The risk of anaesthesia is the same even if the surgery is minor.