Can anesthesia and surgery really cause memory issues? Researchers found that patients who have had surgery may score lower on memory tests.

Surgery And Anesthesia

Some people are afraid of going under the knife for various reasons, and a lot of them are anesthesia-related. Is there really a cause for concern when it comes to anesthesia? A new study shows that it's possible to have some memory issues after surgery and anesthesia.

In order to gather their findings, researchers tested the memory and executive function of 964 participants and again after four years when 312 had had surgery while the remaining 652 had not. The mean age of the participants at enrollment period was 54 years old, and participants who were diagnosed with dementia or mild cognitive impairment were not included in the study.

Immediate Memory Decline

Results showed a decline in immediate memory among the participants who had one or more surgeries, but no other differences in measures of executive function and memory were observed. Immediate memory is the memory for events of information gathered in the last few hours or days. Often, brain damage that limits the capability to store new memory alters immediate memory, but not memory of the distant past

Basically, the results suggest that the patients who have had surgery and anesthesia are more likely to experience a decline in immediate memory compared to those that have not. Although the changes are small, they are still considered significant.

"The cognitive changes we report are highly statistically significant in view of the internal normative standards we employ, and the large sample size of the control, or non-surgery, population. But the cognitive changes after surgery are small — most probably asymptomatic and beneath a person's awareness," said Dr. Kirk Hogan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, senior author of the study. He further states that it is too early to recommend any changes in clinical practice, as they are still awaiting results of follow-up investigations.

The study is published in the journal Anaesthesia.

Fear Of Going Under The Knife

A 2016 study revealed that a majority of patients going for surgery have anesthesia-related fears. Researchers then found that among the 400 participants, women, especially those over 40, were seen to be more likely to have anesthesia-related fears before surgery.

Specifically, the top causes for their fear were postoperative pain, intraoperative awareness, and postoperative sleepiness. In fact, people were less afraid of the needles in the operating theater, the prospect of possibly revealing personal information under general anesthesia, and not waking up after surgery.

To be clear, serious risks caused by anesthesia during routine surgeries are small, with mortality rates of less than 1:100,000. That said, minor complications such as nausea, vomiting, sore throat, and incision pain are quite normal and fairly predictable.

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