A general anaesthetic before major surgery can cause long-term memory loss, claim researchers.
A Canadian study suggests memory cells which should only be blocked temporarily to facilitate an operation may never recover.
Until now, scientists have not understood why about a third of patients who undergo anaesthesia and surgery experience some kind of cognitive impairment including confusion and poor brain functioning following an operation.
The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine Study showed anaesthetic drugs activate memory loss receptors in the brain to ensure patients don’t remember traumatic events during surgery. They found that there is still an effect on the receptors long after the drugs have been eliminated from the body. Animal studies showed this chain reaction has long-term effects on the performance of memory related tasks.
The team is now researching drugs that can stop the continuing impact on the receptors and restore memory loss.
University of Toronto’s Professor Beverley Orser said: “Anaesthetics don’t put you to sleep – they induce a pharmacological coma. We shouldn’t take these drugs lightly.