Researchers from the UK believe that they've discovered hints of a new state of consciousness that lies between the 'conscious' and the 'unconscious'.
Although it only rarely happens, horror stories abound about people being conscious during surgery, able to recall even the most minute details about the process, even though they received the right amount of anesthesia. Most people simply close their eyes and wake up in the recovery room, blissfully unaware of what happened while they were under. However, from what some anesthesiologists have seen, it appears that there may be a third state we can enter during surgery, where we're not conscious, but we can't be said to be completely unconscious either.
Anesthesiologists use something called 'isolated forearm technique' (IFT) to tell how awake a patient is during surgery: if the person moves their hand or fingers on their own or when they're told to, they need more anesthesia. However, in order to see just how awake the patients truly are, to see if this technique actually works as well as it should, a study was done that monitored the brain activity of 34 patients while they were in surgery. They found that roughly 1 in 3 patients moved their fingers when told to do so by the surgery team, even though their brain activity showed that they were actually under deep anesthesia, like they should be. They weren't completely unconscious or they wouldn't have responded, and they weren't conscious or their brain activity would have showed it.
This state of being between conscious and unconscious during surgery is being called 'dysanaesthesia' — taken from the word 'dysaesthesia', which means an abnormal sense of touch.
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Dysanaesthesia is apparently harmless, according to the researchers. The patients that showed they were in this state only moved their hand under command, not on their own, and they showed no signs of pain or discomfort.
What the results of this study might do is offer researchers a way to design new monitoring devices or techniques to tell exactly what a person is experiencing during surgery. Since the response to an IFT-monitored patient moving their hand is to automatically up their dose of anesthesia, having a better idea of whether they're actually conscious or in this third state of consciousness will prevent people from receiving too high of a dose.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
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