General anaesthetic is widely used for long and painful operations, which can be performed more easily while the patient is in a state of unconsciousness.

While the use of general anaesthetic is widely considered to be extremely safe, there are a number of inherent risks associated with its use.

Permanent nerve damage

General anaesthetic works by blocking the brain’s receipt of the signals that are passed to it along the central nervous system. Such an alteration to the body’s normal functionality brings with it the potential for complications.

Permanent nerve damage can lead to prolonged numbness or even paralysis, post surgery. The most common cause of permanent nerve damage is nerve compression, brought on by a patient being placed in an exaggerated position for a prolonged period of time.

Although anaesthetists and surgeons should be aware of the inherent risks associated with prolonged exaggerated positioning, especially during complex surgical procedures, mistakes do, unfortunately, occur.

If, after consulting with your doctor, you think that your long term nerve damage may be the result of clinically negligent practice, clinical negligence solicitors will be able to offer advice on the best way to proceed.

Allergic reactions

Prior to surgery, it is imperative to fully disclose any allergies to your anaesthesiologist, as well as any incidents where a family member has had a bad reaction to general anaesthetic, as patients can be genetically predisposed to an allergic reaction, even though they may not be aware of any allergies.

Early signs of an allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, include tingling lips, a skin rash and difficulty in breathing, while delayed and more severe symptoms can include urticaria, bronchospasm, hypotension, angioedema and vomiting.

Aspiration pneumonitis

Aspiration pneumonitis is the technical term used to describe the process in which a patient vomits and, subsequently, aspirates that vomit into their lungs. Aspiration pneumonitis can have potentially hazardous complications, with infection causing an inflammation of the lungs.

The risk of Aspiration pneumonitis is why patients are asked not to consume food for several hours before an operation, but a mild allergic reaction to general anaesthetic, or the quirks of a patient’s digestive system, means that it is still a very real risk associated with surgery


Although extremely uncommon, death is a very real risk associated with the administering of general anaesthetic. Statistics published by the NHS assert that, annually, general anaesthetic is responsible for only one death in every 100,000 operations where it is administered.

The figures speak for themselves and the mortality rate associated with general anaesthesia is low, but it must also be considered that it is often difficult to ascertain the precise cause of death in surgery, as a number of factors, including a reaction to general anaesthetic, may coalesce to have fatal consequences.

Minimising risk

The administering of general anaesthetic and surgery both carry an inherent risk. In order to minimise the risks, therefore, patients should consult with their doctors in advance of surgery to discuss what steps they can take to reduce the likelihood of surgical complications. Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and losing weight, are the most commonly prescribed alterations that doctors recommend.