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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
  • 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
  • Although the development of anesthesia took place in the 1840’s, surgery was still not regularly performed due to fear of infection and other complications. That was until the Civil War started in 1861, which caused the number of necessary operations to drastically increase. According to an article in the newsletter of the American Society of Anesthesiologists by Maurice S. Albin, M.D., “The sheer magnitude of battlefield injuries during the conflict played a major role in establishing the regular use of anesthesia.” The need for surgery was greater than ever before, which gave physicians no choice but to use anesthesia to operate. Methods Prior to Anesthesia Prior to the the war, patients may have been given something to bite on, alcohol, opioid drugs, or put in physical restraints to keep them under control during surgery. According to Albin, “It was thought to be unmanly for a male to undergo surgery with an anesthetic, which was usually reserved for women and children. There was even a belief that the use of ‘cold steel’ had a beneficial effect, and it would not cause the depression thought to occur with the use of anesthesia.” “Real Men” Don’t Need Anesthesia The idea of anesthesia being “unmanly”, quickly shifted as the war progressed and the number of injuries rapidly increased. It became a necessity in battlefield hospitals, and is believed that there were around 120,000 uses of anesthetic agents by surgeons on both sides during the battle. Anesthesia on the Fly At the time of the Civil War, many surgeons and physicians had little no experience with using an anesthetic during operations. They were forced to rely on manuals which gave them instructions on how to properly use anesthetics such as ether and chloroform. Although many doctors lacked experience with these agents, mortality rates associated with the use of an anesthetic were surprisingly low. Albin stated, “After the termination of this horrendous conflict, these doctors would return to their practices, hospitals and medical schools, all the richer for being exposed to this unique American contribution to the life-easing quality of mercy — the discovery of anesthesia.” Physicians benefited from learning firsthand the techniques and uses of anesthetics, and many lives of wounded soldiers were saved as a result. Today, millions of people undergo anesthesia each year in the United States alone, and it has become extremely common. Although anesthesia has developed and changed over the years, its regular use was established during the time of the Civil War.

    26 Feb
    26 Feb