Anesthesia Injury

Anesthesia Injury

Many patients fear anesthesia. The death rate from anesthesia has decreased from 1 in 5,000 in the 1950s to only 1 in 250,000 today. However, anesthesia accidents still happen.

These accidents usually happen from general anesthetics. But they can also happen under local and regional anesthetics.

Curious about anesthesia injuries and the compensation you can seek for them? Read on to learn more.

How Does an Anesthesia Injury Happen?

Doctors and dentists use anesthesia to block your nerve signals so they can perform medical procedures. Anesthetics typically block pain signals. However, they can also be used to block brain signals, rendering you unconscious.

This keeps you comfortable during the procedure. It also makes the job of the doctor or dentist easier because you will not feel the pain that might cause you to move during the procedure.

Healthcare providers can administer three types of anesthesia:

Local Anesthesia

A doctor or dentist administers a local anesthetic, like novocaine, at the site of the procedure. The anesthetic blocks the peripheral nerves in a small area, keeping them from producing pain signals. The medical provider may inject the anesthetic or apply it topically.

Medical providers use a local anesthetic when they need to anesthetize a small area. This provides the benefits of pain management during the procedure without the risks posed by using a general anesthetic.

Although most people consider local anesthesia safe, these anesthetics can injure you if you receive the wrong dose. At high doses, local anesthetics can affect your heart, lungs, and brain, leading to permanent damage.

Regional Anesthesia

Regional anesthesia anesthetizes a region of your body. For example, an anesthesiologist can administer anesthetics, like lidocaine and fentanyl, through epidural injection. This epidural anesthetizes the lower half of your body.

Anesthesiologists use regional anesthesia when they need to anesthetize an area larger than a local, but still want to avoid the risks of general anesthesia.

Although they lack the risks of general anesthesia, regional anesthetics can cause an anesthesia injury. 

At high doses, the anesthetic enters the bloodstream and migrates into other areas of your body. The anesthetic can affect your heart, lungs, brain, and central nervous system as it moves through the body.

General Anesthesia

Anesthesiologists choose to administer general anesthesia based on:

  • The duration of your procedure
  • The body parts involved in the procedure
  • The size of the area in which the doctor will work
  • Whether the procedure will involve your respiratory or cardiovascular systems

Procedures that involve an internal organ or major musculoskeletal system will almost always require general anesthesia.

General anesthesia works by interrupting the nerve signals in your brain. As a result, you will:

  • Lose consciousness
  • Not experience pain
  • Lack any memory of the procedure

Anesthesiologists usually administer a general anesthetic through an intravenous line. They may also administer it through a breathing mask or tube.

The anesthesiologist will monitor you continuously as you lose consciousness and remain unconscious. During this time, you might not breathe on your own. As a result, the anesthesia team might intubate you to help you breathe.

Your heart rate and blood pressure may also drop. The anesthesiologist will monitor your vital signs to ensure that you receive enough anesthesia to keep you unconscious, but not so much that your vital functions stop working.

An anesthesia injury from general anesthetics can damage your eyes, peripheral nerves, central nervous system, heart, lungs, or brain.

What are the Different Types of Anesthesia Injuries?

You might believe that overdose death is the only type of anesthetic injury. However, anesthetics also carry health risks that often go unnoticed.

Some injuries that anesthetics can cause include:

Systemic Toxicity

A local or regional anesthetic can leave the area in which it was administered and enter the bloodstream. This can cause more than just an immediate injury. The anesthetic can persist in the system for some time, affecting the body’s functions.

Some symptoms of systemic toxicity include:

  • Tinnitus
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness and tingling of the tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness of the mouth
  • Nervousness
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Decreased blood pressure

These symptoms can last for a few days, during which the patient might experience respiratory arrest, seizures, and cardiac arrest. All of these can cause death.

Allergic Reaction

Patients can have allergic reactions to anesthetics. These allergic reactions can include anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Hives
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Weak pulse
  • Swollen tongue or throat

Doctors can treat anaphylaxis with epinephrine. But during the allergic attack, the brain and body might suffer oxygen deprivation.

Anoxic Injuries

The wrong dose of anesthetic can cause anoxic injuries. Anoxic injuries happen when the body and brain lack oxygen. Some injuries that can result from a lack of oxygen include:

  • Brain injury
  • Peripheral nerve damage
  • Optic nerve damage, including blindness

Doctors can prevent these injuries by monitoring the patient’s respiration and oxygen levels.


An overdose of anesthesia can cause death. It can also cause respiration and heart rate to drop so low that the body suffers anoxic injuries.


An underdose of anesthesia can allow you to remain conscious during your procedure. This can cause physical injuries if you move during surgery. It can also cause severe mental trauma.

Throat Injuries

Anesthesia injuries also include physical injuries that you suffer while doctors administer anesthesia or support your breathing.

One of the most common anesthesia injuries happens when the anesthesia team intubates you to assist with your breathing. According to one study, nearly half of patients who receive general anesthesia experience injuries to the throat, teeth, or mouth as a result of intubation.

What Compensation Can I Recover for Anesthesia Injuries?

To seek compensation for anesthesia injuries, you must prove negligence. Your injury must result from a failure by your medical provider to adhere to the proper standard of care. You can prove substandard care by showing that the provider failed to take reasonable steps to protect you from harm.

This can include a failure to properly calculate your dose of anesthesia. It can also include a failure to properly administer anesthesia or monitor your vital signs while you were anesthetized.

If you can prove negligence, you can seek compensation through a personal injury claim for your medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. Depending on the severity of your anesthesia injury, these damages could be significant.To learn more about the compensation you can seek for your anesthesia injury, contact Stephens Law, LLC for a free consultation.