How deep is the sleep? Looking into anesthesia depths

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    Southern African Journal of Anaesthesia and AnalgesiaPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

    How deep is the sleep? Looking into anesthesia depthsP Fosteraa Department of Anesthesia, Penn State, College of Medicine, Hershey, PA, USAPublished online: 12 Aug 2014.

    To cite this article: P Foster (2003) How deep is the sleep? Looking into anesthesia depths, Southern African Journal of Anaesthesia andAnalgesia, 9:1, 6-8, DOI: 10.1080/22201173.2003.10872984

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    Southern African Journal of Anaesthesia & Analgesia - February 2002 6

    How deep is the sleep?Looking into anesthesia depths

    esthesia came from John Snow in London (1847) who also in-troduced the idea of monitoring his unconscious patients. Thebest-known description of Anesthesia Depth is in the (four)stages of anesthesia offered by Guedel in the USA, that wasused first during WWI (1917 1918). The banning of nurseanesthetists in the US Army from active duty in France wasthe stimulus for this: Guedel had to train men only, mostlywithout nursing background, to take over this duty.

    Guedels scheme, published first in 1937, applied mainly tothe effects of diethyl ether, and is of lesser value with modernether anesthetics. Nevertheless it still provides a good work-ing concept of the progression of CNS Depression under Gen-eral Inhalation Anesthesia. Four stages were distinguishedbetween the Induction of Anesthesia to Imminent Death fromOverdose. These are indicated by various physical signs inthe pattern of respiration, CVS function, eye signs, autonomicand CNS responses. Through these Guedel maps the changesoccur as body control shifts from a highly integrated intellec-tual state to a more basic survival condition in unconscious-ness.

    Stage 1. The Descent through Consciousness to Uncon-sciousness. During this stage, through talking with the pa-tient, one can follow a gradual constriction of their sphere ofconsciousness as they lose contact through external senses,while simultaneously analgesia increases until ultimately onlya microcosmic consciousness of self remains without pain.Time sense fails. Near the end of this stage voluntary controlof behavior is lost, heralding unconsciousness. The conven-tional indicator for the end of Stage 1 is loss of the eyelashreflex.

    Stage 2. Turbulence as Consciousness is lost ~ Delirium.With sudden loss of volition, of conscious control, some-times-wild aggressive behavior may supervene along with othersigns of increased sympathetic activity such as dilated pupils,tachycardia & hypertension, violent purposeless movements,rapidly roving eyes, and irregular respirations. Higher con-trol over organ systems seems here to be giving way to pri-mary organ control centers in the medulla.

    In this stage virtually no patient feels or remembers painbut will not be safely anesthetized until autonomic and mo-tor reflex activity is controlled, much of which arises in thespinal cord.

    Stage 3. Drifting down through Surgical Anesthesia. After

    Most everybody has the idea of Anesthesia as a state in whichphysical pain is preempted, no matter how gruesome the sur-gical trauma. Any patient can expect that their general anes-thesia will provide oblivion from pain; that their oblivion willbe so deep that they neither feel pain nor later recall the expe-rience. Despite powerful drugs it is not always as easy toachieve this state as might be expected. In the first place, los-ing consciousness is an early step towards a full anesthetic state;by itself, going to sleep does not prevent pain. At times sleepis difficult to distinguish from true unconsciousness, and some-times sudden severe pain can arouse an asleep patient, orcause pain breakthrough into a dimly aware but pain free state.There are other times when a patients condition is so criticalthat only the lightest anesthesia is a risk, as in the flicker of afetus life before Caesarean section. At any blood level, depthof anesthesia is a balance between surgical assault and centralnervous system (CNS) depression, lightened by intense pain,deepened as pain ceases.

    In fact, statistics show isolated awareness to be rare, andawareness with pain even rarer. When it occurs, it is almostalways due to equipment error: a vaporizer runs dry, a gas sup-ply fails, a leak develops. The other cause is human error thatis controllable by routine strict checking protocols, by disci-plined training to ensure competent use, and by back - up moni-toring, all hallmarks of a good professional department.

    The few signs that pinpoint the moment of crossing thethreshold from self-control into unconsciousness are difficultto read. Its not made easier when a signs significance maydiffer with the two major classes of drugs used for general an-esthesia, especially with the modern practice of mixing the two.Classical General Anesthesia by the inhalation of gases andvapors goes back nearly 200 hundred years. It is produced bya small group of simple volatile liquids. They are relativelytoxic to the nervous system, in which they produce a shotgunvariety of different effects, in combinations that vary with eachdrug. Strictly speaking, this anesthetic process is a deliberatelight poisoning of the nervous system, that is kept safe by thetight control of blood levels by rapid uptake and excretion thatis possible with inhaled drugs. Fortunately, the effects are re-versible. If today these smelly drugs were first offered fori.v. injection they would likely never be accepted.

    The first general anesthetics used were ether, chloroform,and nitrous oxide, and the first concept of (five) stages of an-

    P FosterDepartment of Anesthesia, Penn State, College of Medicine, Hershey, PA, USA

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    Southern African Journal of Anaesthesia & Analgesia - February 2002 7

    a sometimes-rough ride through Stage 2, organ system controlseems to have been regained, marked by immediate onset ofregular automatic breathing, stable blood pressure and pulse;slow uncoordinated eye movements that eventually cease. Thetears of light anesthesia (and the sweating and salivation) dry.Metabolism slows and temperature control is lost, the bodyusually drifts with the environment into hypothermia, which,in its turn, intensifies the anesthesia effect.

    Guedel distinguished 4 planes in this stage: from an initialstable light surgical anesthetic state that goes over into over-dose. About the mid-point, a controlling medullary centerseems no longer to be able to manage the direct depression ofits organ system by the volatile drug; function falters, and meta-bolic failure slowly develops. Heightened sympathetic drivecan no longer mask increasing myocardial depression. Respi-ration becomes uncoordinated as intercostal muscles weakenand the response to a raised arterial carbon dioxide level isblunted. Renal and hepatic functions are likewise depressed.

    Stage 4. Rock Bottom ~Imminent Failure of all Organ Sys-tems. This is the stage that never should be allowed to develop.Mark it DO NOT ENTER. If respiration and circulation areeventually allowed to fail resuscitation is impossible.

    In general this shot gun effect on all organ systems is seenin normal patients with most volatile anesthetics. It comesabout because these drugs are more soluble in lipid than inwater, so that they tend to concentrate in the lipid membraneof all cells walls. This disturbs a variety of cellular transac-tions. Interference with the extraordinarily complex neuronalmessage traffic needed to coordinate the state of conscious-ness would account for its early failure during anesthesia in-duction. The effects that follow are more widespread. This doesnot occur because of any specific synaptic block but is basedon high stress overload of a variety of synaptic transmittersthrough general cellular depression.

    If a normal patient were to go on to develop organ dam-age in one system the picture would change; that system willhave lost its normal functional reserve, making it more sensi-tive to the action of depressant drugs. In severe heart failure,for instance, a patient could collapse even before reaching astable level of surgical anesthesia to start surgery.

    It is mainly this problem of the increased risk introduced bypre-existing illness that has turned the search for magic bul-lets, specific, single acting, synaptic blocking drugs, to re-place the older shot gun drugs. (The ideal of a single intra-venous drug that safely can produce balanced general anesthe-sia remains a dream.) These new bullets are never volatileand so lose the special safety feature of inhaled drugs of easyuptake AND rapid excretion through the lungs. They must beinjected and once in the body may only be removed, some-times slowly, by metabolic breakdown. Thus the safest drugsto give are those that break down the fastest, making it pos-sible to produce steady blood levels by continuous slow i.v.injection, as volatile drugs now effectively do by inhalation.There appears to be one other advantage with volatile agents:a patient still aware is most often pain free. Pure Hypnosis, byitself, does not come with analgesia.

    In designing an anesthetic technique that will use a series ofsingle effect drugs one should start by considering the role an-esthesia needs to play in modulating the many responses to asevere trauma. Surgical trauma represents an enormous threatto survival that must trigger a series of powerful protective

    reactions. One of these will be escape or aggression, violenceonly for as long or as briefly as consciousness lasts. This in-exorably is followed by long lasting physiological changesaimed at self-preservation and repair in an unconscious body.It is the more important function of anesthesia to optimize suchsubconscious responses: this will need deeper and different re-sponses than for simple unconsciousness,. And these responsesare protean: a sudden increase in centrally mediated analgesia;autonomic responses to stabilize circulation by volume main-tenance and regional flow control; enhanced blood clotting;shutting down unimportant gastrointestinal and genitourinaryfunctions; raising blood sugar, routing changes in spinal cir-cuits, adrenocorticoid and catecholamine levels; increasedmuscle tone to protect body cavities or fractured limbs; andlater, after surgery, inhibited psychomotor activity as part ofThe General Stress Response that persists days after injury intothe healing phase. How control of all this is achieved is to befound in the detail of anesthetic technique.

    A next step in designing a magic bullet approach comesfrom looking at characteristics found desirable of General An-esthesia. Five components are generally accepted, and a sixth~ post-operative mental status, should be considered. Eachalone would be ineffective, but combined they could togethermake up Ideal Anesthesia.

    HYPNOSIS/SLEEP: although we somehow accept that wemust be awake to feel pain, sleep, on its own, does not guaran-tee freedom from physical pain, although it is a good way tosidestep the anxiety and mental pain that surround surgery.Something more is needed.

    AMNESIA: no conscious memory is preserved of an event,even if pain was felt at the time. This is not solely a philo-sophical point, since memories are sometimes recorded duringsurgery that are not recoverable without hypnosis, and can leavepsychological injury, or, in other words, mental pain. It couldbe that deeper degrees of amnesia are required than volatileanesthesia sometimes offers. For instance, the sense of hear-ing remains active in deep anesthesia, well after the percep-tion of physical surgical pain is blanked off. Even so, the in-tellect may still be functional: speech can be detected, trans-lated for meaning, decoded for import, and, if found to be threat-ening or in other ways significant, registered in some way toinfluence behavior.

    ANALGESIA/PAIN CONTROL: one should expect fromany anesthetic technique that the threshold for pain perceptionbe raised. Some agents do this better than others. For instance,it is possible to communicate with a comfortable (and some-what conscious) patient under ether while body cavity surgeryis in progress. Very few true Hypnotic drugs are as good anal-gesics as this. Most need analgesic supplement. Similarly,many analgesics need an added hypnotic to produce uncon-sciousness. Indeed, some hypnotic drugs aggravate pain re-sponses if the patient is not fully conscious and in full volun-tary control.

    MUSCLE RELAXATION: muscle movement in responseto noxious stimulus, described as guarding, is a sign thatpain is being felt even if it is not being experienced....


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