What Really Happens When You Wake Up From Anesthesia?

How does the brain recover from unconsciousness or when you wake up from anesthesia? A recent study has attempted to unravel the mysteries of the brain’s ability to revert to consciousness after having been under the effects of anesthetics. The events occurring in the brain under the state of anesthesia are quite blurry to the experts. Therefore, a team of researchers have analyzed the brain activities during recovery from unconsciousness as a result of anesthesia.

anesthesia and brain

What happens to the brain during anesthesia?

Ever wondered as to what happens to someone who’s been subject to anesthesia? A new study has delved into the matter to analyze the happenings in the brain when it recovers from that numbing state. The paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Now, what really happens during anesthesia? To understand better the marvelous manner in which the brain recovers from it, we need to first understand as to what it is made to undergo during the state in question.

When someone is anesthetized, he no longer feels anything, nor does he remember anything since he is put into a state similar to sleep; it is characterised by a lack of consciousness, numbness, loss of memory, and muscle relaxation. Many different kinds of substances (anesthetics) are used for this purpose. The current theories as to how this works entail the spinal cord and brain; but, no explicit explanation has been formulated yet to describe what happens in the brain during anesthesia. In that state, the brain can still coordinate autonomic activities: those activities not needing voluntary reactions, like the beating of the heart. This is monitored by the one who administers the anesthetic, the anesthetist . Some have even described the condition of anesthesia as a coma, whereby the person is made to become unconscious.

The super power of the brain

In spite of having been put to sleep for a while, the brain still manages to recover normally from the event. The study authors hypothesized that the electrical activities governing the body are restored to the brain as the anesthetic substance is gradually drained from the body. Sounds simple enough of a concept. However, the results yielded from the study showed that reality can be quite complex as opposed to the theory of the matter. The results demonstrated that recovery from anesthesia is not a linear change. What happens is that the brain has dynamic states of activity during the process of recovery. The led author hence suggested that his results could help understand how brain injury can hinder someone from fully recovering to full consciousness.

Where lab rats come in handy…

The team of scientists dug deeper and deeper. They treated lab rats with common veterinary anesthetics to monitor the electrical potential in the vicinity of the neurones in the brains of the animals. The electrical potentials were seen in certain specific areas of the brain which are linked with consciousness and anesthesia in previous studies. The electrical voltage during sleep oscillates slowly, and it is at a faster rate when the person is awake. The researchers analysed these patterns of oscillation to understand the fluctuations in electrical activity in the brain. One of the researchers, Andrew Hudson, from the University of California, explained this in these terms:

“Recordings from each animal wound up having particular features that spontaneously appeared, suggesting their brain activity was abruptly transitioning through particular states. We analyzed the probability of a brain jumping from one state to another, and we found that certain states act as hubs through which the brain must pass to continue on its way to consciousness.”

Therefore, while anesthetics allow us to decrease brain activity as per our needs, the unconscious brain has its own inbuilt way of recovering from this, or, so do the results suggest.

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