Research suggests the cognitive functions of some patients decline following general anesthesia and surgery. Referred to as postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), the effects range from mild to long-lasting.
The International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS) presented a special focus on POCD in its May 2011 issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia. The articles in the special issue recommend anesthesiologists take an active role in preoperative screening for reduced cognitive function in surgery patients.
In a recent study presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the IARS, the findings from 11 patients revealed evidence of neuronal injury within days of endoscopic procedures. There have been similar studies, some of which focused on the effects of anesthesia on young children and on the elderly.
In an article in Anesthesiology News, the most recent study's co-author, Roderick Eckenhoff, MD, explained the cognitive decline was a common postoperative complaint from elderly patients, but the cause remains unknown. It could be that patients who are already at risk experience a more significant decline.
The IARS notes it is unknown if anesthesia has an effect or if the decline has some other cause. Researchers of these studies emphasize the importance of further investigations that consider all factors, such as patient risk factors, inflammatory reactions and drug interaction.