Afraid of Anesthesia: You’re Not Alone—But Don’t Put Off that Much-Needed Procedure

Afraid of Anesthesia: You’re Not Alone—But Don’t Put Off that Much-Needed Procedure

The thought of going under is a serious struggle for so many patients who have an upcoming procedure—but, it’s unfortunately not a great excuse for avoiding a much-needed surgery and possibly putting your health at risk as a result. Today, then, we wanted to talk about what to do if you’re afraid of anesthesia: including tips for overcoming your fear and reasons to commit to that important procedure. Read on for encouraging advice!

Are other patients afraid of anesthesia like I am?

Of course! Having a phobia of going under anesthesia is pretty common. According to a 2016 medical study, 88% of the 400 people surveyed experienced preoperative fear. Females were five times more likely than their male counterparts to feel fear of going under, and people over the age of 40 were at a 75% higher risk of being afraid of anesthesia than those 39 and under. The top fears cited included: 

  • Fear of postoperative pain
  • Fear of intraoperative awareness (i.e. being awake/aware during the procedure)
  • Fear of being sleepy postoperatively
  • Fear of revealing personal issues under general anesthesia 
  • Fear of not waking up after surgery

Some thoughts to put your fears at ease…

While fear of anesthesia is common, that’s not to say it’s completely justified. Remind yourself of the following facts as you work through your phobia of going under anesthesia:

  • Your chances of dying under anesthesia are about 0.0001% (or less than 1 in 100,000). You’re twice as likely to die in a tornado if you live in the U.S.
  • Intraoperative awareness (or remaining aware during anesthesia) affects less than 0.1% of all general anesthesia patients.
  • The chances of a patient dying after surgery have declined dramatically in the past few decades as the medical field has made major advancements. The postoperative death-rate is now just one-tenth of what it was prior to the year 1970.

Don’t put off having that procedure. Seriously.

The truth of the matter is that putting off a procedure is far more detrimental to your health—and much more risky—than going under anesthesia is. This is particularly true for diagnostic procedures like colonoscopies which patients who are afraid of anesthesia tend to avoid. According to Stanford Health Care, “Colon Cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. and is one of the most preventable of all cancers.” When you compare the death rate of colon cancer (50,000 deaths in the U.S. annually) to the death rate of anesthesia (34 deaths in the U.S. annually), suddenly it makes much more sense to be afraid of missing out on a lifesaving diagnosis than it does to be afraid of anesthesia.

What can I do to help calm my fear of anesthesia and hold myself accountable for going through with my procedure?

  • Make a plan and stick to it: Schedule your procedure and choose an “accountability buddy” who will support you throughout the pre-op process and encourage you to follow through with your plans. Get your house in order ahead of time (if you’re having an orthopedic procedure, be sure to check out our post on preparing your living space for joint replacement), fill any needed prescriptions, and have someone who will drop you off and pick you up on the day-of. Having a clear plan in place will help ease some of the uncertainty that likely contributes to your fear of going under.
  • Focus on what you can control: Quitting smoking before surgery, reducing your alcohol intake, eating healthier, and exercising are all great ways of lowering your risk of any surgical or post-operative complications. Shift your mind away from what you can’t control (what’s going to happen when you’re under anesthesia) and instead focus your energy on the things you can control (like getting healthy before surgery and ensuring your body is in the best possible condition to handle anesthesia).
  • Use meditation and calming methods: From daily meditation before surgery and reducing stress to talking with a therapist and implementing a morning yoga routine, there are a number of things you can do to help calm your fears, keep unhealthy thoughts at bay, and head into surgery with a clear, focused, confident mind.

Want even more insightful surgery information? Browse the rest of our blog for empowering pre-op tips, helpful nutrition advice, and more!