Relax, it’s just a reversible drug-induced coma

The New York Times has a fantastic interview with Emery Neal Brown, a neuroscientist and doctor who is trying to understand how anaesthesia works to better understand the brain and to build better drugs.

It’s a great interview because he address several of the common beliefs and myths about anaesthesia as well as the challenge of doing neuroscience on comatose people.

Q. Is anesthesia like a coma?

A. It’s a reversible drug-induced coma, to simplify. As with a coma that’s the result of a brain injury, the patient is unconscious, insensitive to pain, cannot move or remember. However, with anesthesia, once the drugs wear off, the coma wears off.

Q. Some years ago when I had an operation, I remember the anesthesiologist trying to soothe me by saying that she was going to put me “to sleep.” Was this right?

A. No. And I wish we’d refrain from saying that to patients. It’s inaccurate. It would be better if we explained exactly what the state of general anesthesia is and why it’s needed. Patients appreciate this intellectual honesty. Moreover, anesthesiologists should never say “put you to sleep” because it is exactly the expression used when speaking about euthanizing an animal!


Link to interview in New York Times.

4 thoughts on “Relax, it’s just a reversible drug-induced coma”

  1. ‘anesthesiologists should never say “put you to sleep” because it is exactly the expression used when speaking about euthanizing an animal!’

    so true! I remember nearly jumping out of the bed when it was said to me – I’m a vet’s daughter.

  2. Gee, from what I learned I was under the impression that under anesthesia was not anything like a coma. Now he’s saying it’s a type of reversible coma? That just sounds wrong.

    I have a cat with seizures and he’s kept under very light anesthesia during dentals, and even normal cats / dogs can wake up very fast from that state.

    Propofol is scary. It hasn’t been around that long, and although I’ve never seen animals stop breathing, it’s a possibility (stronger than with other drugs) and I’ve seen terrible reactions after taking it. I predict that drug will be questioned in the near future.

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