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Is anesthesia dangerous?

BACKGROUND: Recent years have seen a rise in overall anesthesia-related mortality.

METHOD: Selective review of the literature.

RESULTS: Anesthesia-related mortality has fallen from 6.4/10 000 in the 1940s to 0.4/100 000 at present, largely because of the introduction of safety standards and improved training. The current figure of 0.4/100 000 applies to patients without major systemic disease; mortality is higher among patients with severe accompanying illnesses, yet in this group, too, perioperative mortality can be reduced by appropriate anesthetic management. Moreover, the use of regional anesthesia can also improve the outcome of major surgery.

CONCLUSION: A recent increase in the percentage of older and multimorbid patients among persons undergoing surgery, along with the advent of newer types of operation that would have been unthinkable in the past, has led to an apparent rise in anesthesia-associated mortality, even though the quality of anesthesiological care is no worse now than in the past. On the contrary, in recent years, better anesthetic management has evidently played an important role in improving surgical outcomes.

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