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Vital Health Report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Finds Anxiety about Undergoing Anesthesia May Lead One in Four Patients to Postpone Surgery

ASA Urges Patients to Become Informed About Vital Health to Ease Anxiety, Improve Wellbeing and Surgical Outcomes

(August 3, 2010) 

Lack of understanding and apprehension about anesthesia may lead as many as one in four patients to postpone surgery according to the Vital Health Report, a quarterly health survey of Americans released today by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).

More than 75 percent of Vital Health Reportrespondents expressed concern about the use of anesthesia during surgery, yet this fear of anesthesia does not match actual patient experiences. Over the past three decades, anesthesiologists have advanced the field of anesthesiology through improvements to patient safety, the care and comfort of patients before, during and after surgery and the development of innovations that have paved the way for modern medical procedures.  As a result, anesthesia-related mortality rates have decreased dramatically over the past 25 years, from two deaths per 10,000 anesthetics administered to one death per 200,000 to 300,000 anesthetics administered.  To put this into perspective, a person is about 40 times more likely to be struck by lightning than they are to die from anesthesia-related complications. 

The Vital Health Report also found that there is a surprising lack of knowledge about anesthesia. Nearly 40 percent of Vital Health Report respondents incorrectly believe that being under general anesthesia is the same as being asleep, while 17 percent of those surveyed mistakenly think that general anesthesia numbs a small area of the body without altering a patient’s awareness.  In actuality, a patient is unconscious while under general anesthesia and has no awareness or other sensations.

“Patients can reduce their anxiety about anesthesia by learning about the procedure, by being aware of the risks that might lead to complications and by actively managing their Vital Health,” said Kenneth Elmassian, D.O., ASA Board of Directors and President of the Michigan Society of Anesthesiologists. “Our primary focus as physician anesthesiologists is the safety of our patients, which we maintain by managing their vital signs and pain levels before, during and after surgery, but it is equally important for our patients to be informed and in the best health possible prior to a procedure. The better a patient's Vital Health prior to undergoing surgery, the more likely the patient will have a better recovery and procedural outcome.”

The ASA urges Americans to educate themselves about anesthesia and to maintain their Vital Health, not only by living a healthy lifestyle, but also by making sure they know the status of the underlying vital measures that ultimately define their health and impact wellness and positive medical outcomes. It’s easy to take the first step by going to to learn more about anesthesia and to use the Know Your Vital Health Tool. The tool offers a series of health-related questions from which patients receive a customized, anonymous report of health and wellness information that can help them better understand their health status and anesthesia risks. The tool also offers health management and modification suggestions.

The ASA offers these tips to reassure patients prior to undergoing a procedure that requires anesthesia:

  1. Discuss your medical history and inform your anesthesiologist about the medications you are currently taking or have recently taken, including herbal remedies.
  2. Ask your anesthesiologist about the anesthesia that will be administered, the duration of the anesthesia and the associated risks for a person with your medical profile.
  3. Check the credentials of the physicians performing your procedure, including the anesthesiologist.
  4. Work to be in the best possible Vital Health prior to your procedure.  

The Vital Health Survey was administered online June 7-9, 2010 to 1,019 Americans split evenly between men and women age 18+. The survey consisted of 44 questions.

Committee on Quality of Healthcare in America, IoM: To err is human, building a safer health system. Edited by Kohn L., Corrigan J, Donaldson M, Washington Academy National Press, 1999, p 241.


Founded in 1905, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is an educational, research and scientific society with more than 52,000 members organized to raise and maintain the standards of the medical practice of anesthesiology. ASA is committed to ensuring physician anesthesiologists evaluate and supervise the medical care of patients before, during and after surgery to provide the highest quality and safest care every patient deserves.

For more information on the field of anesthesiology, visit the American Society of Anesthesiologists online at . To learn more about the role physician anesthesiologists play in ensuring patient safety, visit Like ASA on Facebook , follow ASALifeline on Twitter and follow ASA on LinkedIn .



American Society of Anesthesiologists