Background: Awareness during general anesthesia can cause late psychological symptoms. Selection bias may have affected the results in previous retrospective studies. The authors used prospective consecutive collection to recruit patients with previous awareness.
Methods: In a cohort of 2,681 consecutive patients scheduled to undergo general anesthesia, 98 considered themselves to have been aware during previous surgery. Six patients died before inclusion, and another 13 were excluded (4 cases of stroke or dementia, 7 declined to participate, and 2 could not be located). Seventy-nine patients were interviewed by telephone, and medical records were checked in uncertain cases. The interview followed a structured protocol, including seven late symptoms (anxiety, chronic fear, nightmares, flashbacks, indifference, loneliness, and lack of confidence in future life). Three persons independently assessed the interviews for classification, to determine whether awareness had occurred.
Results: Four cases were performed using regional anesthesia, and another 29 were not considered as awareness by the assessors. Therefore, the final analyses included 46 patients. Twenty (43%) had experienced pain, and 30 (65%) described acute emotional reactions during the awareness episode. Fifteen (33%) patients had experienced late psychological symptoms afterward. In 6 of those cases, the symptoms lasted for more than 2 months, and 1 patient had a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Acute emotional reactions were significantly related to late psychological symptoms (P<0.05).
Conclusion: The method for recruiting awareness cases in studies on late psychological symptoms may affect the result. The authors found fewer and milder problems, despite a similar degree of initial problems as in previous studies.