Awareness during general anaesthesia: a review of 81 cases from the Anaesthetic Incident Monitoring Study

Anaesthesia. 2002 Jun;57(6):549-56. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2044.2002.02565.x.


Because of recent studies suggesting that awareness is still a major issue in anaesthetic practice, we reviewed 8372 incidents reported to the Anaesthetic Incident Monitoring Study. There were 81 cases in which peri-operative recall was consistent with awareness. There were 50 cases of definite awareness and 31 cases with a high probability of awareness. In 13 of the 81 incidents, the patients appeared to receive adequate doses of anaesthetic drugs. Where the cause could be determined, awareness was mainly due to drug error resulting in inadvertent paralysis of an awake patient (n = 32) and failure of delivery of volatile anaesthetic (n = 16). Less common causes included prolonged attempts at intubation of the trachea (n = 5), deliberate withdrawal of volatile anaesthetic (n = 4) or muscle relaxant apnoea with inadequate administration of hypnotic (n = 3). An objective central nervous system depth of anaesthesia monitor may have prevented 42 of these incidents and an improved drug administration system may have prevented 32. On the basis of these reports, we have developed guidelines that may have prevented the majority of these incidents.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, General*
  • Anesthetics / administration & dosage
  • Awareness*
  • Equipment Failure
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors
  • Paralysis / chemically induced


  • Anesthetics