How prevalent is anesthesia awareness?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

For the 20 million patients wheeled into surgical suites across the US every year, general anesthesia will be given without incident. Still, 1 in 1000 patients will experience anesthesia awareness every year. Researchers have tried to figure out who is most likely to be at risk for the event, but few factors have emerged.


Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery
According to recent reports, the incidence of anesthesia awareness is between 1-2 per 1,000 patients. Approximately 20,000-40,000 patients out of the 20 million United States surgeries performed annually experience some form of anesthesia awareness. 

Awareness during anesthesia implies that during a period of intended general anesthesia, the brain is aroused by stimuli that are stored in memory for future explicit recall. It has an estimated incidence between 0.007-0.91. Thus, with over 20 million general anesthetics performed yearly in the United States, the occurrence can be striking. Consequently, in 2004, The Joint Commission issued an alert stating that anesthesia awareness is an "under-recognized and under-treated" problem in health care organizations. The incidence in trauma patients is even more alarming and has been shown to range from 11-43% in various studies.

Thankfully, the prevalence of anesthesia awareness is not very high; generally, less than 1% of the patients who are given anesthesia either wake up or move during surgery. In this video, anesthesiologist Yael Varnado, MD, explains these statistics.

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