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What Are the Risks of Anesthesia?

Operating Room

Anesthesia is a critical component of the surgery experience, but it is also one of the most difficult to understand. Patients often ask me and my colleagues in the Department of Anesthesiology a lot of questions about their anesthetic care. One question I get most frequently involves the risks associated with spinal and epidural anesthesia.

While the safety and effectiveness of anesthesia has dramatically improved over the past fifty years, all anesthetics carry some degree of risk – with regional anesthesia, these side effects are generally mild and may include headache, pain at the site of the anesthetic injection, and nausea and vomiting after surgery.

At Hospital for Special Surgery, anesthesiologists use several techniques that limit these potential side effects. Before surgery, your anesthesiologist will review your medical records and talk to you before creating a customized anesthetic plan that works best for your specific needs. For many orthopedic cases, we use regional anesthesia – which, when compared with general anesthesia, is associated with less pain after surgery and less nausea and vomiting. Our Acute Pain Service team provides round-the-clock care for patients after surgery, optimizing pain control while minimizing the incidence and severity of these side effects.

If you have had any side effects or complications after prior anesthetics, please let your anesthesiologist know. He or she will work with you to make sure that anesthetic techniques are employed to address that concern.


Dr. Richard L. Kahn is a board-certified internist and anesthesiologist who specializes in regional anesthesia at Hospital for Special Surgery. He currently serves as the Medical Director of the Ambulatory Surgery Center at HSS.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.