Improving patients’ brain health after surgery

Health care provider and patient

When you hear the words, “We are going to have to operate”, it’s not easy news. As necessary as surgery may be, it will usually entail a bit of disruption in your life, as well as some physical discomfort. But now, more than ever, attention is being paid to minimizing your pain and complications, and optimizing your recovery. This was the focus of the latest Sunnybrook Speaker Series lecture, entitled Anesthesia and Surgery: Improving Your Pain and Outcomes.

Sunnybrook’s new Perioperative Brain Health Centre has a clear mission: to improve patients’ brain health after surgery. So why does the brain need to be protected? Anesthetics are given to patients during surgery to control pain and alter their consciousness. While many people think of anesthesia as ‘putting people to sleep’, Dr. Sinziana Avramescu, assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesia, says they actually cause a form drug-induced coma. In other words, these are potent drugs that do an important job, but they don’t come without risks.

Anesthetic drugs have long been used for this purpose, but researchers are just now starting to understand that about one-third of surgical patients will experience some level of confusion or memory loss long after surgery and anesthesia. It appears that in some people, the effects of the drugs linger. Older patients, and those undergoing complex surgeries, seem to be at particularly high risk.

Sunnybrook is part of many leading initiatives to reduce the amount of medication you’ll need during surgery, and in turn, their overall impact. Research is also exploring how your brain and body can be best protected before, during and after surgery. This is important to ensure a patient’s good overall health, and to help them get back to a high quality level of function as soon as possible.

If you or a loved one is planning to have surgery soon, experts offer some helpful tips to consider. Make sure to consult with your health care team beforehand so you understand the health care plan, what medications will be used and their possible side effects. It’s a good idea to bring a friend or family member with you so they can help you during your follow up at home. And write down important information, from contact phone numbers to instructions about your medications, so it will be easier to remember.

Sunnybrook’s Perioperative Brain Health Centre also wants to empower patients to improve their own brain health. They are encouraging patients to share their stories and experiences, and offer many ways to reach out to other patients in the community. If you are interested in learning more about community engagement opportunities, e-mail or send a note to Dr. Sinziana Avramescu, Department of Anesthesia, 2075 Bayview Avenue, M-wing, 3rd floor, Room M3200, Toronto, ON M4N 3M5.

» Watch the archived webcast: Anesthesia and Surgery: Improving Your Pain and Outcomes

» Learn more about Sunnybrook’s Perioperative Brain Health Centre & post-operative cognitive dysfunction (POCD)

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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