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Anesthesia Information and Emergency Medicine

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Recovery and POCD

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The immediate time after anesthesia is called emergence. Emergence from general anesthesia or sedation requires careful monitoring because there is still a risk of complication. Nausea and vomiting are reported at 9.8% but will vary with the type of anesthetic and procedure. There is a need for airway support in 6.8%, there can be urinary retention (more common in those over 50 years of age) and hypotension in 2.7%. Hypothermia, shivering and confusion are also common in the immediate post-operative period because of the lack of muscle movement (and subsequent lack of heat production) during the procedure.

Postoperative cognitive dysfunction (also known as POCD and post-anesthetic confusion) is a disturbance in cognition after surgery. It may also be variably used to describe emergence delirium (immediate post-operative confusion) and early cognitive dysfunction (diminished cognitive function in the first post-operative week). Although the three entities (delirium, early POCD and long-term POCD) are separate, the presence of delirium post-operatively predicts the presence of early POCD. There does not appear to be an association between delirium or early POCD and long-term POCD. According to a recent study conducted at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the brain navigates its way through a series of activity clusters, or “hubs” on its way back to consciousness. Dr. Andrew Hudson, an assistant professor in anesthesiology states, “Recovery from anesthesia is not simply the result of the anesthetic ‘wearing off,’ but also of the brain finding its way back through a maze of possible activity states to those that allow conscious experience. Put simply, the brain reboots itself.”

Long-term POCD is a subtle deterioration in cognitive function, that can last for weeks, months, or longer. Most commonly, relatives of the person report a lack of attention, memory and loss of interest in activities previously dear to the person (such as crosswords). In a similar way, people in the workforce may report an inability to complete tasks at the same speed they could previously. There is good evidence that POCD occurs after cardiac surgery and the major reason for its occurrence is the formation of microemboli. POCD also appears to occur in non-cardiac surgery. Its causes in non-cardiac surgery are less clear but older age is a risk factor for its occurrence.

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