Side Effects of General Anesthesia You Must Know

In many medical procedures, anesthesia is used. It is a kind of temporary induced loss of sensation or awareness. One common type of anesthesia is general anesthesia, which is mainly used for surgical procedures where it may be safer or more comfortable for you to be unconscious.

In general anesthesia, sedation is provided through inhaled or intravenous (IV) medications. Apart from general anesthesia, there are two other types of anesthesia. These are regional (numbing only part of your body, usually below the waist) and local (numbing a small area) anesthetics.

Before undergoing general anesthesia, an anesthesiologist talks with the patient to gather information related to the patient’s health history, prescribed and over-the-counter medications as well as supplements the patient may be taking, possible allergies and any past experiences with anesthesia.

On the basis of this information, the anesthesiologist chooses the safest medications that will trigger fewer side effects after the surgery is done.

Due to its effects on the entire body, general anesthesia can cause a number of side effects and complications, which mostly depend on your individual condition and the type of surgery.

Most side effects clear up within 24 hours or so. Deep anesthesia, however, can have subtle but long-lasting side effects.

common side effects of general anesthesia

common side effects of general anesthesia

Here are some of the common side effects one may experience from general anesthesia.

1. Nausea and Vomiting

Feeling sick and vomiting is one of the most common side effects of general anesthesia. In medical terms, it is known as postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV).

PONV may occur in the first 24 hours after surgery and may continue for a couple of days. It may be triggered by a number of factors, such as the medication, motion and type of surgery.

nausea and vomiting

However, females, non-smokers and people who have a history of motion sickness are at a higher risk of suffering from these side effects.

A 2012 study published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia reports that the most reliable independent predictors of PONV were female gender, history of PONV or motion sickness, non-smoker, younger age, duration of anesthesia with volatile anesthetics and use of postoperative opioids.

2. Chills and Shivering

Chills and shivering, medically known as hypothermia, is another common side effect that patients experience once they regain consciousness after surgery.

This shivering can cause a lot of discomfort in patients recovering from general anesthesia. It usually results from the anesthetic inhibiting the body’s thermoregulatory capability. At the same time, cutaneous vasodilation (triggered by postoperative pain) may also be a causative factor.

chills and shivering

A 2010 study published in Anesthesia Progress reports that mild hypothermia is extremely common during anesthesia and surgery. The basic process occurs as core body heat redistributes to the skin surface through anesthetic-induced vasodilation and depression of hypothalamic thermoregulatory centers.

This side effect is more common in males than females. Also, longer surgeries may trigger this side effect.

A 2014 study published in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine reports that ketamine and pethidine are both equally effective in reducing postoperative shivering.

3. Sore Throat

A sore throat is another common side effect. Along with a sore throat, mild hoarseness and dry mouth are also common after surgery.

The tube that is put in the throat to help you breathe during the procedure can lead to a sore throat after it’s removed. A sore throat and hoarseness in the first hours to days after surgery is common in almost 50 percent of people who are given general anesthesia.

sore throat

A 2002 study published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia reports that airway management, female sex, younger patients, surgery for gynecological procedures and use of succinylcholine predicts the likelihood of a postoperative sore throat.

Increased awareness of the predictive factors can help avoid this combination and improve patient satisfaction.

A 2012 study published in the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Journal explores risk factors associated with a postoperative sore throat and hoarseness in women following intubation. In this study, three variables were found to be significant risk factors: age greater than 60 years, the use of a throat pack and endotracheal tube.

Having a regional anesthetic can prevent this problem. However, if you need a general anesthetic, a smaller size for the device used to help you breathe during surgery can be useful.

4. Headache

It is common to experience headaches, dizziness and drowsiness shortly after regional or general anesthesia

This usually happens in case of spinal and epidural anesthesia used for operations like Caesarian section, hip replacement or bladder operations involving the lower body. Since the injection is given in the back, it may lead to leakage of the spinal fluid through the punctured hole.


The loss of spinal fluid, in turn, leads to decreased pressure in the rest of the fluid which surrounds the brain and spinal cord, thus giving rise to a spinal headache.

This type of headache typically begins within 12 to 24 hours after surgery. The pain tends to get worse when you sit up as the pressure around the brain is reduced even further.

In a 2013 study published in Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine, researchers reported that 17.3 percent patients presented postural headache characteristic of post spinal puncture headache.