Adverse effects of general anaesthetics
Berthoud MC, Reilly CS.
Department of Anaesthesia,
University of Sheffield,
Medical School, England.
Drug Saf. 1992 Nov-Dec;7(6):434-59


This review deals with the adverse reactions associated with general anaesthetic agents in current use. These reactions fall into 2 categories; those which are more common, predictable and often closely related, and those which are rare, unpredictable and carry a high mortality. Both inhalational and intravenous anaesthetic agents affect the central nervous and cardio-respiratory systems in a dose-related manner. Neuronal inhibition results in decreasing levels of consciousness and depression of the medullary vital centres which can lead to cardiorespiratory failure. Both groups of agents have some depressant effect on the myocardium and vascular smooth muscle leading to a fall in cardiac output and hypotension. Centrally-mediated respiratory depression is common to both groups and the inhalational agents have a direct effect on lung physiology. The most important idiosyncratic reactions to the volatile agents are malignant hyperpyrexia and 'halothane hepatitis'. Malignant hyperpyrexia has an incidence of 1:12,000 with a mortality of about 24%. It is triggered most often by halothane together with suxamethonium. Post halothane hepatic necrosis is rare. Evidence points to 2 distinct syndromes; direct toxicity from the products of reductive metabolism, and a more serious illness, immunologically mediated via haptens formed by liver proteins and the products of oxidative metabolism. Prolonged nitrous oxide exposure can cause bone marrow depression and life-threatening pressure effects by expansion of air-filled spaces within the body. The idiosyncratic reactions to the intravenous agents include anaphylactoid reactions (which are rare) and triggering of acute porphyria. Etomidate is immunologically 'clean', but it inhibits cortisol synthesis.
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