Herbal Medicines Potentially Dangerous Mix with Anesthesia

07 Feb

While herbal medicines may have once been seen as something relegated to counterculture types years ago, it’s very much a part of the mainstream in the U.S. today. Every year, Americans are spending over $27 billion on herbal supplements to help them with everything from memory to energy boosting.

While herbal medicines can often be used effectively, the term "natural" often gets mixed up with automatically being safe. This can be a potentially fatal assumption with people who have a surgical procedure where herbal products can interact adversely with anesthesia medicine. What anesthesiologists are finding is that many time patients aren’t revealing the use of herbal medications before they go into surgery.

According to a report at the American Society of Anesthesiologists, about half of all patients do not tell their doctors about their herbal supplement use before going under anesthesia.

"There is a clear gap in communication between doctors and patients on the topic of alternative medicines," says Dr. Rafael Ortega.

It’s unclear why the information is not being divulged, whether it’s embarrassment or not understanding how potent the medicine is that they are taking.

Since herbal drugs are not subject to the same standards under the Food and Drug Administration, it is not always clear how the compounds may interact with medicines used by doctors. In fact, manufacturers do not have to prove efficacy or track the side effects of their herbal products.

The chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at Boston Medical Center Dr. Keith Lewis, a pharmacist and physician, recommends that patients stop taking herbal medicines at least two weeks before their surgical appointment. He also prefers patients bring in their medications for their doctors to examine.