In the 1960s, anesthesia aspiration was a common cause of death for pregnant women. It is estimated that during the 1960s as many as two percent of all maternal deaths were caused by aspiration pneumonia that developed because of anesthesia.
Times have changed. The risk is now known, and steps are taken to prevent anesthesia aspiration among pregnant women. However, the risk has not been eliminated. If you are pregnant, or if you love someone who is, then it is important to recognize the risk and to ask the right questions to help keep yourself, your baby, or your loved one safe.
Why Pregnant Women Are At Risk for Anesthesia Aspiration
According to Open Anesthesia, pregnant women have an increased risk of anesthesia aspiration because:
- During pregnancy, the uterus increases intragastric pressure.
- The increased progesterone present during pregnancy relaxes the gastroesophageal sphincter.
- There is delayed gastric emptying during pregnancy.
An individual woman may not have these three risk factors when she is not pregnant.
Is It Possible to Keep Pregnant Women Safe From This Risk?
There are some ways to minimize the risk of anesthesia aspiration, pneumonia, and death among pregnant women. Specifically, doctors can:
- Avoid general anesthesia. In some cases other types of anesthesia may be used that allow a woman to continue breathing on her own and thus decreases the risk of anesthesia aspiration.
- Use certain drugs to minimize the risk of anesthesia aspiration if general anesthesia is medically necessary.
- Carefully watch for respiratory problems in the hours and days following the procedures. Sometimes symptoms of anesthesia aspiration will not be present for 24 hours or more after the procedure. If general anesthesia was provided to a pregnant women and she develops respiratory complications, such as coughing or problems breathing, then doctors should suspect the possibility of anesthesia aspiration and treat the patient accordingly.
While these steps may reduce the risk, there are times when pregnant women require anesthesia. In those cases, anesthesia aspiration remains a risk of anesthesia aspiration and death. Please help raise awareness about this risk by sharing this article on Facebook or Twitter and please talk to your doctor about any of your specific concerns.