Aspiration during anaesthesia: a review of 133 cases from the Australian Anaesthetic Incident Monitoring Study (AIMS)

Anaesthesia. 1999 Jan;54(1):19-26. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2044.1999.00642.x.


Two-hundred and forty incidents of vomiting/regurgitation and aspiration were reported to the Anaesthetic Incident Monitoring Study database consisting of 5000 reports. Of these, 133 cases of aspiration were recorded. Passive regurgitation occurred three times more commonly than active vomiting. Aspiration was reported twice as often in elective compared with emergency surgery, with 56% of incidents taking place during induction of anaesthesia. Anti-aspiration prophylaxis was prescribed in 14% of patients who subsequently aspirated; however, the majority of cases had at least one predisposing factor for regurgitation, vomiting or aspiration evident peri-operatively. While a major immediate physiological disturbance was common, long-term morbidity was not. Death ensued in five cases, all of whom had significant co-morbidities. Factors reported as contributing to the incident included error of judgement and fault of technique, while clinical experience and anaesthetic assistance tended to minimise the incident. Aspiration remains an important anaesthetic-related morbidity. The application of simple guidelines may have prevented the incident in 60% of all cases of aspiration. Ensuring airway security may be as important as chemoprophylaxis in its prevention.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anesthesia / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Competence
  • Elective Surgical Procedures
  • Emergency Treatment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intraoperative Period
  • Intubation, Intratracheal
  • Male
  • Medical Errors
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / etiology*
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Management