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Anxiety Often Delays Surgery

A new study by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) discovers that a lack of understanding and apprehension about anesthesia may cause as many as one in four patients to postpone surgery.

Moreover, according to the Vital Health Report, a quarterly health survey of Americans, more than 75 percent of respondents expressed concern about the use of anesthesia during surgery.

However, the fear of anesthesia does not match actual patient experiences.

Over the past 25 years, the practice of anesthesiology has seen improvements in 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 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 offers these tips to reassure patients prior to undergoing a procedure that requires anesthesia:

  • Discuss your medical history and inform your anesthesiologist about the medications you are currently taking or have recently taken, including herbal remedies.
  • 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.
  • Check the credentials of the physicians performing your procedure, including the anesthesiologist.
  • Work to be in the best possible Vital Health prior to your procedure.

Source: American Society of Anesthesiologists

Anxiety Often Delays Surgery

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Anxiety Often Delays Surgery. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 4 Aug 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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