As general anesthesia affects the whole body, it is more likely to cause side effects than local or regional anesthesia. Fortunately, most side effects of general anesthesia are minor and can be easily managed.
The occurrence of side effects after dental general anesthesia is considered to be related with several factors, including the type and dosage of the anesthetics used, the type and duration of the procedure, the patient’s tolerance to the specific drugs, medical history, overall health condition, and genetic factors.
Patients with underlying serious medical conditions are most susceptible to the risks of general anesthesia, while a healthy person will rarely experience any serious side effects or complications.
The action of the various anesthetic drugs is the main cause of the most side effects of general anesthesia. The loss of sensation which is the purpose of anesthetics is achieved by hindering the transfer of messages from the nerves to the brain. This can also affect other organs, but suppression of cardiac and pulmonary function is the cause of the most serious side effects and complications of general anesthesia.
Read more about 'Complications and Risks of General Anesthesia'
Several other side-effects may occur as a result of anesthetic medications. The most common side effects of general anesthesia include sore throat, nausea, vomiting and headache. These are minor side effects and are usually temporary.
A sore throat is a side effect which may be caused by the anesthetic drugs or/and by the use of a breathing tube placed in the throat area during surgery. The use of an endotracheal tube is rare in dental surgeries under general anesthesia, so throat pain is not such a common problem in dental general anesthesia.
Some anesthetic drugs may cause nausea and vomiting as a side effect after general anesthesia. On average the incidence of nausea or vomiting after general anesthesia ranges between 25 and 30%. Women are generally more prone to post-surgery nausea than men. Nausea symptoms may last from a just a few hours to several days, and they can be treated with anti-emetics, which reduce the urge of vomiting.
The most common after effect of general anesthesia is feeling cold and shivering when you wake up after surgery. It is caused by a drop in the body temperature (hypothermia), because the anesthetic reduces the body's heat production and affects the way the body regulates its temperature. A blanket is usually used to counter-measure the temperature drop during and after surgery.
Headaches may be caused by anxiety or dehydration, lasting for a few hours.
Less common side effects include dizziness, disorientation, blurred vision, dry mouth, and low blood pressure and arrhythmia.
It's common to feel some sleepiness or disorientation for the first minutes after waking up after general anesthesia. Some memory loss or confusion may also be experienced, especially by older patients. Although these effects are usually temporary, sometime they can last as long as a few days or weeks, mainly in patients with poor physical condition.
Dry mouth may be experienced following general anesthesia, but the unpleasant effects can be relieved by gradually increasing the intake of fluids.
In rare cases, general anesthesia can cause blurred or double vision as a temporary side effect.
Lowered blood pressure and irregularities in heart beat rate (arrhythmia) can also occur in some cases following GA surgery, depending on the type and dose of the used anesthetic drugs. Patient monitoring should be continued until cardiovascular function returns to normal.
The best way to prevent any unpleasant side effects or potentially dangerous complications during and after having general anesthesia is to provide your dentist anesthesiologist with a complete medical, family and social history, and to follow carefully the pre-operative instructions. If you fail to follow any of the instructions, e.g. if you eat or drink something, inform your anesthesia provider before the procedure.
Failure to report the use of drugs such as cocaine, barbiturates, heroin, or even some ‘natural’ herbal remedies which interact with anesthetic drugs, may result to fatal side effects during general anesthesia.