Talk with a Physician Anesthesiologist to Make Surgery Safe at Any Age - American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA)

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Talk with a Physician Anesthesiologist to Make Surgery Safe at Any Age

Chicago – For patients having surgery, working closely with a physician anesthesiologist is an important part of making sure the experience is as safe and comfortable as possible. This is especially true when the patient is an older adult or child, according to American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) President Daniel J. Cole, M.D.

Surgery and anesthesia are safer than they’ve ever been, thanks to patient safety initiatives, research and professional standards implemented by ASA. During Physician Anesthesiologists Week, Jan. 31 – Feb. 6, Dr. Cole shares tips on preparing for a positive surgical experience. His most important tip, regardless of the patient’s age, is having a detailed conversation with the physician anesthesiologist who is responsible for taking care of the patient before, during and after surgery.

“Most people don’t know all of the ways a physician anesthesiologist prepares a patient for surgery and ensures the patient has a comfortable recovery,” said Dr. Cole. “Patients are often surprised to learn that they can and should meet with us to discuss their health status and lifestyle, previous experience with anesthesia as well as any fears or concerns about the procedure and recovery. This conversation can contribute significantly to greater comfort and safety.”

Dr. Cole says this discussion can take on increased importance when the patient is older or a child. Parents often have fears about anesthesia that the physician anesthesiologist can address.  An older adult may be at greater risk of complications related to the anesthesia.

The following are tips for adults, seniors and children preparing for surgery:

Adults.   Whatever your age, make sure the physician anesthesiologist knows everything about your health.  Here’s what you need you to talk about:

  • Do you have any past or ongoing medical conditions such as allergies, asthma and sleep apnea? Even minor aches and pains could be important, so don’t hold back.
  • What medications are you taking? Don’t forget things like vitamins and dietary supplements, and over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen. These can affect how the anesthesia or surgical procedure affects you. Also mention whether you drink alcohol and how often?
  • Do you smoke?  If so, try to quit. Stopping even a few days before surgery can make a big difference. Your physician anesthesiologist can help with tips and programs if you want to quit permanently.
  • Have you had problems with anesthesia in the past? If so, describe these problems in detail.

Seniors. The older you are, the more likely you are to be taking medications for on-going health problems. Being older also puts you at risk for post-operative delirium, a temporary confusion or inability to pay attention that may happen after surgery. Delirium can be very unpleasant for the patient and the patient’s family, and may be linked to other medical problems. In 2016, ASA will launch a patient safety initiative on improving brain health, fostering understanding, developing best practices and increasing awareness of post-operative delirium with the goal of laying the groundwork for research into minimizing its effects. While there currently is no way to absolutely prevent delirium, there are things you can do to minimize it. Here are some tips:

  • If you’ve experienced delirium in the past, tell your physician anesthesiologist.
  • Have a friend or family member stay with you in the hospital to help you feel more comfortable and less disoriented after anesthesia.
  • Ask for a recovery room with a window so you can tell if it is day or night.
  • Have your glasses and hearing aids handy so you can use them once it’s okay to do so.
  • Pack familiar items, especially if a loved one can’t be with you all the time. For example, family photos, a clock, a special keepsake.

Children. Studies are being done all the time to better understand the effects of anesthesia on young children. Parents are understandably concerned about their child’s safety, as well as physical and emotional comfort. Dr. Cole has this advice for helping a child have a positive experience:

  • Be calm and comforting. Your confidence will be calming to your child. Provide your child with information that is appropriate for their age and explain what to expect and why the surgery is important to have. Assure your child that you’ll be there as much as possible and when you’re not, doctors and nurses will be there to take care of them.
  • Don’t over promise. Explain that the experience won’t be like home and that there will be unfamiliar sights and sounds.  Let your child know he or she might feel sick or sore after the surgery and that the doctors and nurses will provide medicine to make it better.
  • Talk to the physician anesthesiologist about options for anesthesia.
  • If you have fears about the short- or long-term effects of anesthesia, discuss them with the physician anesthesiologist. Physician anesthesiologists are partnering with pediatricians, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other specialists and organizations in a program called SmartTots with the goal of continuously studying and improving the safety and effectiveness of anesthesia for children.
  • While definitive studies are ongoing, the latest research is reassuring regarding adverse effects of anesthetics on the developing brain.

To learn more about the critical role physician anesthesiologists play before, during and after surgery, and about your own role in ensuring your or loved one’s safety and comfort, visit

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.

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