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Why anesthetics cause prolonged memory loss

November 3, 2014

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Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine have shown why anesthetics can cause long-term memory loss, a discovery that can have serious implications for post-operative patients.

Until now, scientists haven’t understood why about a third of patients who undergo anesthesia and surgery experience some kind of cognitive impairment — such as memory loss — at hospital discharge. One-tenth of patients still suffer cognitive impairments three months later.

Anesthetics activate memory-loss receptors in the brain, ensuring that patients don’t remember traumatic events during surgery. Professor Beverley Orser, who is an anesthesiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and her university team found that the activity of memory loss receptors remains high long after the drugs have left the patient’s system, sometimes for days on end.

“Patients — and even many doctors — think anesthetics don’t have long-term consequences. Our research shows that our fundamental assumption about how these drugs work is wrong,” says Orser, a Professor in the Departments of Anesthesia and Physiology.

» Read the full release on the University of Toronto website

Beverley Orser