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Understanding Anesthesia Awareness

Q: What is anesthesia awareness?
A: Anesthesiaawareness is a rare event in which a patient undergoing general anesthesia may regain consciousness and be able to recall some events during surgery. General anesthesia is the only type of anesthesia where “anesthesia awareness” may occur. Other forms of anesthesia such as sedation (example: colonoscopy), regional (example: epidural) and local (example: dental procedure) are not associated with anesthesia awareness. For additional information regarding all forms of anesthesia please visit

Q: What is the average rate of awareness?
A: Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants experience indicates that anesthesia awareness occurs in one out of every 14,500 cases. This is less than .01% of all of the cases that SAC performs. (SAC performs over 100,000 cases annually). Nationally 99.9 percent of patients under anesthesia do NOT experience awareness.

Additionally, in 2007, the journal Anesthesiology published a report by SAC physicians who found that over a three year period the incidence of awareness may be as low as 1 in 14,000 surgeries—and closer to 1 in 42,000 for patients who are not considered to be at a higher risk.

Q: How can you prevent awareness?
A: Before surgery, patients should meet with their anesthesiologist, if possible, to discuss their anesthesia options. They can express their concerns, ask questions and share any problems they may have experienced with previous anesthetics. They should also discuss any prescription or over-the-counter medications they are taking.

Q: Do patients who wake up in the middle of their surgery feel every cut and stitch?
A: Reports are more likely to involve hearing conversation or other sounds for a few seconds. Remember, only a very small percentage of patients are aware of even a moment of their surgery. This phenomenon is not a reason to postpone surgery or fear anesthesia awareness.

Q: Where can people find more information?
A: The American Society of Anesthesiology has an abundance of information on its website


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