The Risks of Anaesthesia

‘Where can I find out about the risks of anaesthesia?’
‘Is it true that I might wake up half way through my anaesthetic?’
‘My last anaesthetic made me feel very sick – I’m dreading it this time.’
‘I’ve heard that spinal anaesthetics can leave you paralysed. Is this right?’

The project

In July 2004, the College approved a new project, which aims to help patients with questions such as these. In modern times, these questions are asked more frequently. In addition, research suggests that even when patients don’t ask their anaesthetist about their fears, the fears still exist and are frequently misplaced and never addressed.

New material was developed to give an account of some of the risks associated with having an anaesthetic. Fourteen topics are discussed in detail and can be downloaded via the related documents area below.

The development process

  • Consultant and trainee anaesthetists have written these articles. Patients have been consulted and advised extensively on content, clarity and style. The aim has been to write an account of the risk that patients can understand which is also full, accurate and up-to-date.
  • Each account closes with references from the medical literature so that patients can access further detail if they wish.
  • Each article uses and explains technical terms so that patients can engage more effectively in future discussions with healthcare professionals.
  • Each article has been reviewed by an independent specialist anaesthetist to ensure accuracy and completeness.

The project is a useful resource for health professionals and anaesthetistss who wish to be updated on the latest numerical data on risks. The leaflets are updated regularly. 


This leaflet, from the original series of patient information leaflets, describes a special type of headache that can occur after having an epidural or spinal anaesthetic. Many people have epidurals or spinals for surgery. Occasionally, a headache may develop following the procedure.

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