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Anesthesia

Hard time getting reoriented

11/05/2008

Question:

My 86 year old grandfather had knee surgery on Monday. His oxygen level got very low (57) and has not recovered. He is disoriented and still "out of it". Is this normal? Could it be the anesthesia? Will time take care of it or is this permanant?

Answer:

An oxygen saturation level of 57% is very low indeed. The normal is above 95%. Although humans can survive with such low levels for short time periods in extreme conditions, for example on the top of Mt Everest without portable oxygen supplies, prolonged survival is not possible. There are many possible causes of low oxygen ("hypoxemia"). After major surgery, the causes include blood clots in the lung, aspiration pneumonia, lung collapse, and heart failure. Pre-existing conditions like emphysema may also contribute. Recovery from anesthesia, per se, is not a cause of hypoxemia. Hypoxemia can certainly cause disorientation. This should be looked into urgently.

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Response by:

Gareth S Kantor, MD Gareth S Kantor, MD
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University