University of Toronto researchers discover why anesthetics cause prolonged memory loss
If you ever suspected that things weren’t quite right after going under anesthesia – you were right!
Anesthetics are serious business. Students taking their clinical internships who happen to prick their fingers by accident get rushed to the emergency room. And one mistake during the procedure can have tragic results like one woman who felt the pain of her entire surgery, but couldn’t speak or move.
Royal College of Anaesthetists spokesperson Dr Keith Myerson once said that it’s a scientific balancing act to relieve pain and create loss of consciousness, while at the same time minimizing the drug effects – reduced supply of oxygen to the blood and the brain.
Now, one anesthesiologist wants the world to know that anesthetics are nothing to take lightly. And they don’t make a person go to sleep – they induce a pharmacological coma.
Here is another comforting admission … Until now, scientists haven’t understood why about a third of patients who undergo anesthesia and surgery experience some kind of cognitive impairment — such as memory loss — at hospital discharge. One-tenth of patients still suffer cognitive impairments three months later.
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine wanted to crack the lid on why general anesthesia can cause long-term memory loss. They demonstrated that general anesthesia results in sustained activation of receptors that inhibit brain function and cause extended cognitive decline following surgery.
Anesthetics activate memory-loss receptors in the brain, ensuring that patients don’t remember traumatic events during surgery. Professor Beverley Orser and her team found that the activity of memory-loss receptors remains high long after the drugs have left the patient’s system, sometimes for days on end.
Orser, a Professor in the Departments of Anesthesia and Physiology, and anesthesiologist said:
Patients — and even many doctors — think anesthetics don’t have long-term consequences. Our research shows that our fundamental assumption about how these drugs work is wrong.
Animal studies showed this chain reaction has long-term effects on the performance of memory-related tasks.
In the study — published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation — the team gave healthy male mice a low dose of anesthetic for just 20 minutes and found that receptor activity was increased for a week afterwards. These results suggest the same effect can impact a patient’s learning and memory during a time when they are receiving critical information about their care.
There’s a lot going on after surgery, which can alter our ability to think clearly. Loss of sleep, new environments and medications can all impact a patient’s mental function. Anesthetics likely compound these issues.
Anesthetics don’t put you to sleep—they induce a pharmacological coma. We shouldn’t take these drugs lightly.
Her suggestion was for physicians to monitor their patients’ memory loss and for patients to write things down and seek help. And of course, they are already developing and testing more drugs to stop receptors and restore memory loss. The convenient timing of new drug development might explain why the harmful effects of anesthetics have never been questioned or intensely studied before.
This is way too late in the game to have admissions like this. If the long-term effects of general anesthesia have not been fully explored, then one should seriously consider ever going under the knife. Prevention is the best way – please consider the help of a highly trained naturopath to catch things before requiring surgery. It can’t always be prevented – if there’s a way, please consider local pain relief or alternatives to “going under.”
The surgery is indeed a trauma to the body, but so is anesthesia; some people never feel the same again. In which case, reach out to that naturopath to help regain full consciousness, get back into your body and restore full brain function.
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