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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Anaesthetic's effect on women
Men take longer to come round after an operation
Men take longer to come round after an operation
Women come round more quickly from anaesthetic than men, but take longer to fully recover, say researchers.

Despite opening their eyes and obeying commands more quickly, Australian scientists found women took 25% longer to recover after having a general anaesthetic.

The team, from the department of anaesthesia and pain management at the Alfred Hospital, in Victoria, monitored 241 men and 222 women for three days after they had undergone surgery.

The team now say more research is needed to investigate why there are differences between the sexes, and improve recovery from anaesthetic.


Women's overall quality of recovery is worse

Paul Myles,
Alfred Hospital, Victoria, Australia
In addition to having a slower recovery, women were found to be more likely to suffer from side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, backaches and sore throats.

Although the side effects are relatively minor, patients suffering from them will not be discharged from the recovery room.

So, although women come round more quickly, both sexes are discharged from the recovery room after a similar length of time.

Hormonal differences

A previous study two years ago had looked at one kind of anaesthetic drug and found that women woke up more quickly, and are perhaps less sensitive to the drug.

The Australian study, in the British Medical Journal, looked at a wider range of anaesthetic drugs, and found women had the same reaction to all of them.

Associate professor Paul Myles, who led the research, told BBC News Online:

"Women recover more slowly, suggesting they are more sensitive to the side effects of the drugs, or recover more slowly from the effects of surgery itself.

"We have known for some time that women have higher rates of nausea and vomiting after surgery; but our BMJ study has found they also have more headache, and backache.

"Importantly, their overall quality of recovery is worse."

The scientists say hormonal differences may explain why women are more likely to suffer side effects.

Almost a third of women were likely to feel, or be sick, in the recovery room, compared to 16% of men.

About the same numbers suffered backache.

The team, led by Paul Myles, wrote in the British Medical Journal: "Postoperative nausea and vomiting in women has been related to the phase of the menstrual cycle, and women have a higher incidence of migraine and tension headaches generally.

"Postoperative backache may be attributed to immobility of the lumbar spine during surgery, and there are anatomical differences between men and women."

Women and men may also react differently to the anaesthetic drugs, the researchers speculated.

They suggest women may also be more likely to report side effects.

However, as all participants in the study were asked about those side effects, the researchers say it is unlikely that affected this study.

Professor Myles said: "More research is needed to identify what factors cause these differences, whether it is hormones, differences in brain-nerve pathways, or are there specific anaesthetic drugs that have better effects in women?

He added: "By developing new methods to improve recovery from anaesthesia and surgery, we hope to be able to avoid major complications, get people back to their normal daily life, and save healthcare dollars."

Until that research is done, the researchers said doctors should ask patients about their experiences after surgery and anaesthesia in order to improve things for patients.

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