The Loh Down On Science

Surgeon's nightmare: Patients waking during surgery

Can patients regain consciousness during surgery? 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Yes they can, and do.  Luckily, it's not common!  Still, anesthesiologists have long wanted to accurately monitor when a patient is truly under.

Now, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital may have found out how.  The key?  An EEG device.  It records the brain's electrical activity with scalp electrodes.

The Boston team hooked ten healthy volunteers to various monitoring devices, including an EEG.  They asked folks to tap one mouse button if they heard a click, another if they heard their name.  Then they played those sounds every four seconds while they slowly administered surgical anesthetic.  People were considered deeply unconsciousness when they no longer responded to their name.

When the scientists compared the mouse taps with the EEG readings?  Right before people lost consciousness, and right before they regained it, their brains showed very distinct EEG activity.

Meaning there is a way to tell when surgical patients are truly under.  So doctors no longer have to ask their patients, "Unconscious in the operating room? O.R. you?”  Get it? O.R.?

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

Thursday, from 2-3 p.m. on the LDOS blog: Sandra chats with author Ashley Merryman about her book (with Po Bronson) Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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