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Debunked: A Century-Old Theory of How Anesthesia Works

  • Every year, millions of Americans are able to experience a painless surgery with the help of anesthesia, even though most don’t really know how anesthesia works. Each day, Steel City Anesthesia helps administer anesthesia to Ambulatory Surgery Centers, and hospitals and doctors’ offices across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Although it is extremely common and vital to the world of medicine, there is constant research to find out exactly how anesthesia works. The most common theory is that anesthetics block neural function by disrupting fat molecules in the cell membranes. However, new research from a study done by Weill Cornell Medicine may have debunked a century-old theory of how anesthesia works. Co-researcher Dr. Hugh Hemmings, chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medicine, discusses the new findings saying they have debunked a century-old theory of how anesthesia works and, “Finally have proof that these anesthetics must have a direct effect on integral membrane proteins – and not an indirect effect on proteins through the lipid bilayer – to put patients in a coma-like state, allowing them to undergo painful procedures with no memory or pain.” This new evidence supports the idea that anesthesia does not affect the lipid bilayer, which is the part of the cell membrane that is made up of fat. The new findings show rather than interacting indirectly through the membrane itself, anesthetics interact directly with membrane proteins, which inhibit electrical communications between neurons, which triggers unconsciousness. Researchers in this study reconstructed a model cell surrounded by thin membrane in order to determine the biological mechanism behind anesthesia. Thirteen different anesthetic agents were tested using a technique developed by by Dr. Olaf Andersen, a professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Dr. Helgi Ingólfsson, Ph.D. The results showed that none of the anesthetics tested affected the lipid bilayer properties. “That was a very surprising result,” said Dr. Andersen. “When we started conducting the experiments I was convinced we would see some effect on the bilayer. The fact that the results are as clean as they are was to me really amazing.” While there is still more research to be done on this topic, these results are groundbreaking in the world of anesthesia. Researchers are always hoping to learn more, and this study may have just “debunked” a century old theory of how anesthesia works. As we focus on patient care and achieving industry leading satisfaction ratings,  having a better understanding of the mechanisms behind anesthesia can lead to the development of new anesthetic agents with less undesirable side effects.

    15 Mar
    15 Mar
  • It is pretty fair to say that no one really enjoys getting a cavity filled or going under anesthesia because of a painful surgery, it’s just something we have to do. Although it isn’t fun for anyone, redheads may dread a trip to the dentist’s office a bit more than the average person, and for good reason. Over the years, many have said that a patient’s natural hair color may have an impact on anesthesia efforts. But do redheads really require more anesthesia? Recent studies have been done that show people with naturally red hair often require a higher dosage of anesthesia, and are sometimes resistant to pain blockers, such as novocaine, than their brunette or blonde counterparts. Making up only 1-2% of the population worldwide, the genetics of a redhead are what makes them such a rarity. Researchers believe a mutation of the gene that causes people to have red hair and fair skin, also has an effect on a person’s sensitivity to pain. The Mc1R gene, which affects hair color, produces melanin in people with blond, black, or brown hair, but a mutation causes it to produce pheomelanin in redheads. This gene is a part of a family of receptors in the brain that include pain receptors, which may be why it affects a redheads tolerance of pain. Dr. Daniel I. Sessler, an anesthesiologist and chairman of the department of outcomes research at the Cleveland Clinic, said he started studying hair color after hearing many colleagues discuss redheads needing more anesthesia than patients with different hair colors. “The reason we studied redheads in the beginning, it was essentially an urban legend in the anesthesia community saying redheads were difficult to anesthetize,” Dr. Sessler said. “This was so intriguing we went ahead and studied it. Redheads really do require more anesthesia, and by a clinically important amount.” Researchers believe patients with red hair require about 20% more general anesthesia than the average person, which proves that redheads being harder to anesthetize was not just a myth in the medical community. Another study in 2005, proved that redheads are more resistant to the effects of local anesthesia, such as the numbing drugs that are often used by dentists. It is possible that people with dark skin, eyes, and hair may produce more melanin than normal and in turn will also require more anesthesia. So the next time you hear your redheaded friend complaining about a routine trip to the dentist, you’ll know why!

    15 Oct
    15 Oct
  • Each year, millions of Americans safely and successfully undergo procedures while under a form of anesthesia. While it is extremely common to require anesthesia for a surgery, most patients don’t really know much about the anesthetic itself. As we approach the 170th anniversary of the first successful use of a form of anesthesia, here are four interesting facts about anesthesia you may not have known. Before Anesthesia, Patients were Told to “Bite the bullet.” This popular phrase has meaning that dates back to a time before there was anesthesia. A wounded patient, often a soldier, would be told to “bite the bullet” while enduring painful surgery without anesthetic. Aside from bullets, patients were often given sticks, leather straps, and other objects to clench between their jaw during painful procedures. As you can imagine, this was not a very good alternative to anesthesia, and we are very thankful so much has changed! Anesthesia Causes Temporary Amnesia Anesthesia activates memory-loss receptors in the brain, which ensures the patient has no memory of the surgery. Some look at the effects of anesthesia as just being “put to sleep”, but this really is not the case considering if it was just sleep, the patient would be awakened by the extreme pain their body is experiencing. The effects of anesthesia can be more closely related to a reversible coma than to a deep sleep. Smokers May Need Higher Doses of Anesthesia than Nonsmokers Smokers, as well as people who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, may require more anesthesia than the average non-smoker. A study monitored a group of women all undergoing the same surgery. The results of the study showed the women who were smokers required 33% more anesthesia, and women exposed to secondhand smoke required 20% more. John Reynolds, MD, an associate professor at Wake Forest University, says smokers have irritated airways, and as a result, they may need higher doses of pain medication to improve their tolerance with the breathing tubes. Redheads May Sometimes Require More Anesthesia Due to a gene that causes their red hair, redheads sometimes require 20% more anesthesia than the average patient. This gene is known as the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) and responsible for the bodies pigment. The MC1R gene is also connected to hormones that stimulate pain receptors in the brain. The gene can sometimes overproduce a pain-related hormone, which may make redheads more sensitive to pain, in turn causing them to require more anesthesia. While anesthesia has been around for some time and has become extremely common in the world of medicine, there is still a lot of interesting facts about anesthesia that many people do not know. We hope you enjoyed learning some interesting facts about anesthesia and, if it peaked your curiosity in learning more about anesthesia, CLICK HERE for some Frequently Asked Questions and Answers from Steel City Anesthesia.  

    20 Sep
    20 Sep