a person laying down with a mask administering anesthesia

Can People With COPD Undergo General Anesthesia?

General anesthesia can be inevitable depending on the medical procedure being performed. People with COPD may have extra concerns about anesthesia due to the risk of lung complications. This raises a question: Can people with COPD undergo general anesthesia?

What is general anesthesia?

General anesthesia involves a medication that is injected into the vein or administered by inhalation through a mask. The goal is to induce a state of unconsciousness so that the patient feels no pain and awareness. The medications used for general anesthesia reduce the heartbeat, breathing, and blood circulation. Due to this, people who undergo general anesthesia are closely monitored during the procedure.1

General anesthesia is different from local anesthesia, which is when an anesthetic is applied or injected into a small region of the body. With local anesthesia, you are awake during the procedure. This type of anesthesia is used for minor surgeries, such as mole removal.1

Advantages of general anesthesia

Overall, general anesthesia offers some advantages during surgery. Primarily, it reduces awareness and discomfort during the surgery. It can also provide the surgeons with a greater ability to perform the surgery safely and effectively.

Potential risks of anesthesia

The concern with general anesthesia is that it can impact the ability to breath independently. Specifically, it can increase the risk of:2,10

However, despite this risk, many people with COPD can undergo general anesthesia but may require extra monitoring prior to and during the procedure. To determine who may require this extra monitoring, the anesthesiologist will assess individual risk factors for complications.3

Risk factors for lung complications

Risk factors that may increase the risk of lung complications in people with COPD undergoing surgery with anesthesia include:4,5,6,10

  • Certain heart conditions like heart failure
  • Current tobacco use
  • A history of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that affects breathing
  • Older age
  • Type of surgery, with surgeries involving the upper abdominal area or upper-middle part of the back having a greater risk
  • Surgeries of long duration

Once your doctor has assessed your risk factors and conducted lab tests, they would be able to make a recommendation whether it is safe for you to proceed with surgery that requires general anesthesia.

Preparing for surgery

When preparing for your surgery, your physician may provide you with specific interventions. Some of these include:7-10

  • Informing your doctor of all medications you are on. This is because some medications must be discontinued prior to surgery, such as theophylline on the night prior to the surgery.
  • If you develop a COPD exacerbation close to your surgery date, your doctor may suggest delaying your surgery until after you’ve recovered.
  • If you smoke, your doctor may suggest abstaining for 4-8 weeks prior to surgery. This is based on a study that revealed people who abstain from tobacco prior to surgery have a reduced risk of complications after surgery.
  • Ensuring you have enough supply of your COPD mediations. It is generally recommended that people continue with their inhalers right after surgery; however, your doctor will give you clear instructions individualized for you.

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