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      General Anesthesia, Sleep, and Coma

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      New England Journal of Medicine

      Massachusetts Medical Society

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          Consciousness and anesthesia.

          When we are anesthetized, we expect consciousness to vanish. But does it always? Although anesthesia undoubtedly induces unresponsiveness and amnesia, the extent to which it causes unconsciousness is harder to establish. For instance, certain anesthetics act on areas of the brain's cortex near the midline and abolish behavioral responsiveness, but not necessarily consciousness. Unconsciousness is likely to ensue when a complex of brain regions in the posterior parietal area is inactivated. Consciousness vanishes when anesthetics produce functional disconnection in this posterior complex, interrupting cortical communication and causing a loss of integration; or when they lead to bistable, stereotypic responses, causing a loss of information capacity. Thus, anesthetics seem to cause unconsciousness when they block the brain's ability to integrate information.
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            Predictors of cognitive dysfunction after major noncardiac surgery.

            The authors designed a prospective longitudinal study to investigate the hypothesis that advancing age is a risk factor for postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) after major noncardiac surgery and the impact of POCD on mortality in the first year after surgery. One thousand sixty-four patients aged 18 yr or older completed neuropsychological tests before surgery, at hospital discharge, and 3 months after surgery. Patients were categorized as young (18-39 yr), middle-aged (40-59 yr), or elderly (60 yr or older). At 1 yr after surgery, patients were contacted to determine their survival status. At hospital discharge, POCD was present in 117 (36.6%) young, 112 (30.4%) middle-aged, and 138 (41.4%) elderly patients. There was a significant difference between all age groups and the age-matched control subjects (P < 0.001). At 3 months after surgery, POCD was present in 16 (5.7%) young, 19 (5.6%) middle-aged, and 39 (12.7%) elderly patients. At this time point, the prevalence of cognitive dysfunction was similar between age-matched controls and young and middle-aged patients but significantly higher in elderly patients compared to elderly control subjects (P < 0.001). The independent risk factors for POCD at 3 months after surgery were increasing age, lower educational level, a history of previous cerebral vascular accident with no residual impairment, and POCD at hospital discharge. Patients with POCD at hospital discharge were more likely to die in the first 3 months after surgery (P = 0.02). Likewise, patients who had POCD at both hospital discharge and 3 months after surgery were more likely to die in the first year after surgery (P = 0.02). Cognitive dysfunction is common in adult patients of all ages at hospital discharge after major noncardiac surgery, but only the elderly (aged 60 yr or older) are at significant risk for long-term cognitive problems. Patients with POCD are at an increased risk of death in the first year after surgery.
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              General anaesthesia: from molecular targets to neuronal pathways of sleep and arousal.

              The mechanisms through which general anaesthetics, an extremely diverse group of drugs, cause reversible loss of consciousness have been a long-standing mystery. Gradually, a relatively small number of important molecular targets have emerged, and how these drugs act at the molecular level is becoming clearer. Finding the link between these molecular studies and anaesthetic-induced loss of consciousness presents an enormous challenge, but comparisons with the features of natural sleep are helping us to understand how these drugs work and the neuronal pathways that they affect. Recent work suggests that the thalamus and the neuronal networks that regulate its activity are the key to understanding how anaesthetics cause loss of consciousness.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                New England Journal of Medicine
                N Engl J Med
                Massachusetts Medical Society
                0028-4793
                1533-4406
                December 30 2010
                December 30 2010
                : 363
                : 27
                : 2638-2650
                Article
                10.1056/NEJMra0808281
                3162622
                21190458
                © 2010
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