The One Surgery Risk Doctors Don’t Warn You About

The One Surgery Risk Doctors Don’t Warn You About

If you have to have surgery, your doctor will typically advise you of possible complications, such as bleeding, pain, blood clots, infection, and even death. However, you may not hear about the risk of cognitive problems, such as memory loss and confusion, after anesthesia.

How Can Knee Surgery Change Your Brain?

Sandra didn’t know anything about the potentially toxic risk of general anesthesia when she went in for knee surgery. After the operation, her knee felt better, but she felt like she had brain fog and was afraid she was getting Alzheimer’s disease. She broke down in tears and called a psychiatrist for help. Years earlier, she had gotten a brain imaging scan using a technology called SPECT. Her mental healthcare professional suggested rescanning her to see if her brain had changed.

On the new scan, Sandra’s brain looked toxic and was dramatically worse in her frontal and temporal lobes, both of which are involved in memory and attention. It was clear that something had negatively affected her brain after that first scan.

What Research Says About General Anesthesia

Current research on general anesthesia is mixed, with some studies showing no lasting negative effects and others showing toxic effects, but the following two studies stand out.

1. In the journal Pediatrics, children who had undergone general anesthesia before the age of 4 had lower IQ, diminished language comprehension, and decreased gray matter in the back of their brains. This is very concerning.

2. A before-and-after SPECT study of patients who underwent coronary artery bypass surgery showed that 68% had diminished blood flow, which was linked to decreased verbal and visual memory six months later.

What makes this even more alarming is that low blood flow is a risk factor for mental illness. Low blood flow on brain SPECT imaging has been seen with depression, suicidal thoughts, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADD/ADHD, traumatic brain injury, hoarding, murder, substance abuse, and more. In fact, decreased cerebral blood flow is the #1 brain imaging predictor that a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

How to Minimize Your Risk

If you have to undergo surgery, opt for local or spinal anesthesia whenever possible. If that is not an option, make sure you do everything you can to optimize your brain before going under the knife. And practice brain healthy habits after surgery to improve cognitive function.

To see what anesthesia does to the brain, look at Karen’s SPECT scans below. Karen discovered she had an aortic aneurysm and had to have surgery with general anesthesia. She had a prior SPECT scan and wanted to know what effect the anesthesia had on her brain, so she had another scan done shortly after the procedure. The post-anesthesia scan looked much worse than her original scan, which motivated her to work really hard to rehabilitate her brain. No doubt, the surgery had a very negative impact on her brain and mind, but that was recoverable with brain healthy habits. And her follow-up scan showed marked improvement.

For tips and strategies on how to prepare for a surgical procedure and how to recover more quickly, check out these 3 episodes of the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast in which Dr. Daniel Amen and his wife Tana Amen discuss her experience having a hysterectomy.

How to prepare for unexpected health emergencies.

How to recover quickly after a medical procedure.

What are the best pain management strategies after surgery?

At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to help our patients see and understand any underlying brain dysfunction due to toxins, such as anesthesia. We use an integrated brain-body approach to heal the brain and minimize any symptoms associated with exposure to toxins.

If you want to join the thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health and overcome symptoms, such as memory loss or brain fog, at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. I wish I had known this before having two knee replacements at the age of 75 years old. Four hours under anesthesia was too long. I came home and did not feel well and kept telling therapist I could not eat or drink and soon found out I was dehydrated and went to the hospital. For the next 5 months I spent a total of 35 days in the hospital and because I was so sick I could not move my legs and now they are terrible. Also I was checked over and over with cat scans & x rays and a cyst was found on my pancreas. Doctor went in to put two stints in to check inside of pancreas and the second one went thru the tube into my intestines and I almost bled to death. I did not know who I was or where I was-almost died. Now I am having to get my pancreas checked to make sure the cyst on it stays the same. So far it is good but still cannot move my legs and always in pain. I talked to three doctors and asked for pain pills-all said NO and they didn’t want me to get addicted. I said who cares if I am addicted – at my age who cares. I do believe that this was all due to being under the anesthetic for 4 hours. Oh well, to late to worry about it now.

    Comment by Lora Colla — February 20, 2020 @ 4:06 PM

  2. Thanks for the article. Any remedies to reverse the brain fog? Detoxifying? Supplements?

    Comment by Nancy — March 11, 2020 @ 3:26 AM

  3. Oh Lora Colla,, wow I’m in much sorry for what happened to you~ and wonder why they did both knees at the same time, 4 hours under is long for sure but the aftermath of symptoms you explain is frightening, to say the least. That they didn’t get you up and walking and/or in PT right away is sad. Are you unable to walk at all__ and it’s just horrible those people who abused the opiate pain medicine so now those who need it for real are suffering? You may try going to a pain clinic as it seems only they can prescribe those medicines but then finding good pharmacy because they have been acting like they know how much pain medicine everyone should take. I do wish and hope things change around for you.

    Comment by Chloe Covers — March 11, 2020 @ 3:29 AM

  4. Please go see a pain management doctor….they seem to be the only ones who can prescribe pain meds now. I’m so sorry for your troubles.. .

    Comment by Darlene — March 11, 2020 @ 5:37 AM

  5. I am 85 yrs. and have chosen not to have my knee replaced. I have bone on bone and in pain all the time. I have had injections but to no avail. My next option is to have the nerves killed. I can also have stem cell injection which is very expensive as no insurance covers that. After talking to my cardiologist we think the nerve burn is the best option. Local anesthesia is the best option for me.

    Comment by Dolores Beach — March 11, 2020 @ 5:39 AM

  6. Thank you for sharing your important story. Those of us with few supports don’t need these issues, too. I have decided to not have any more surgeries which require general anesthesia in order to preserve what brain function I have. The pain and mobility issues are big.

    Comment by Joy — March 11, 2020 @ 6:18 AM

  7. It would be nice to get some answers on the post about what to do to improve brain health. This seems to be a secret. I talked with someone from the help line and they were not helpful. Offered me to read a few of his many books which are not specific to what I’m looking for. I was not offered any advice as to what I can do to optimize brain health in my child who has to undergo anesthesia within a month. I’m trying to get specific answers but can’t seem to get them. Why is it so secret?

    Comment by Mandy — March 11, 2020 @ 6:27 AM

  8. Agree with Mandy. Specific tips for regaining and maintaining brain health would be most helpful.

    Comment by JC — March 11, 2020 @ 6:58 AM

  9. There are so many possibilities of “what is best for you” that I am sure a help line could not even start to ascertain that for you. I do recommend his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Once you can figure out what you are struggling with personally, there are suggestions to help deal/heal that part of the brain. I see that you are familiar with chakras….I would definitely suggest clearing all chakras often. Hope this helps in some way.

    Comment by Kristin — March 11, 2020 @ 7:36 AM

  10. What a terrible outcome to have when you thought the knee replacemnets would change your life for the better. Don’t give up though. You can still get through this and slowly improve. Be careful with the pain meds. They can also have bad effects on the brain although I know some may be neccessary, but don’t go overboard. Hope you’re still trying to walk. Good luck to you.

    Comment by el — March 11, 2020 @ 9:03 AM

  11. The Brain Gym is on YouTube. You can listen to it free. I used the Brain Gym in the early 90s after a traumatic closed head injury. The brain looked like a stroke victim. In 2019, my brain is completely closed. The inside is not perfect probably but the outside it. HallELuJAH!

    Comment by Dorothy Sittler — March 11, 2020 @ 9:23 AM

  12. Our 15 year old daughter had sever GI issues. A colonoscopy revealed that her colon is extremely long; on the 90+ percentile for length. It was also abnormally slow, likely due to later-to-be-diagnosed thyroid issues. The anesthesia used for the brief colonoscopy time left our daughter “unusually loopy” for an excessive amount of time. Very shortly thereafter, she had oral surgery for the removal of her wisdom teeth. Although we elected to avoid general anesthesia for that, and had just 1 oral Valium tablet, in combination with the Novacaine and Nitrous Oxide, our daughter was LOOPED… for days. She drifted in and out of this “loaded” state for several weeks. Neither the dentist nor Doctor had seen anything like it, and could only attribute her body’s inability to relieve itself of the effects of anesthetic overload to the hypomotility of her extremely long colon. We honestly were concerned as to wether or not mental normalcy would EVER be regained. Doctors could only caution ever letting her be exposed to any members of the Benzodiazepine family of drugs. Further surgeries ( knees and hip) have all been done using spinal anesthesia, with special monitoring. Our daughter is now 25, a university student and doing well, although her ability to be restrained in her speech is not what it once was, especially when fatigued, and alcohol overuse is simply out of the question, EVER.
    Our daughter definitely feels her thought process, especially in regards to mathematics and memorization was significantly impacted. She has gone on to secure numerous certifications and is now working on a PT degree, but finds she learns best through “immersion” as opposed to previous, more traditional academic approaches.
    God was good to help us “get her back,” but YIKES! It was a scary one!!

    Comment by Kristin — March 11, 2020 @ 9:27 AM

  13. My grandson battled a very severe case of RSV/Pneumonia. It was a 2 week hospitalization that required 5 days of sedation and a breathing tube to save his life at only 2 weeks old. I assume a baby can’t get a Spect screening and brain rehab suggestions would be limited due to age .Where can I find information on rehabbing an infant’s brain post surgery to help mitigate developmental delays?

    Comment by Lisa — March 11, 2020 @ 2:38 PM

  14. What kind of brain healthy habits should be done?

    Comment by Crystal — March 11, 2020 @ 5:22 PM

  15. bone broth slowly, I read, adds to the cushionign in knees. Fire and Kettle bone broth soups go down easy: I love tomato, plain beef, and especially chicken mushroom bisque.

    Comment by Emily Sandstrom — March 11, 2020 @ 6:21 PM

  16. I woud like to know what renedies could help lift the brain fog after surgery.

    Comment by Suzanne uzoff — March 11, 2020 @ 7:01 PM

  17. Hello Mandy, we’ve updated the post with some additional links that offer more information. We hope this helps! We have many blogs on our website regarding overall brain health as well.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 12, 2020 @ 12:18 PM

  18. Hello JC, we’ve updated the post with some additional links that offer more information. We hope this helps!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 12, 2020 @ 12:19 PM

  19. Hello Nancy, we’ve updated the post with some additional links that offer more information. We hope this helps!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 12, 2020 @ 12:20 PM

  20. Just lost my sister in law yesterday she fell and broke her 2 wrists after surgery she was very toxic did not know what she was doing or saying shouting and swearing at everyone two days later got chest infection transferred to bigger hospital put on life support never gained consciousness turned of machine last night passed away having two broken wrists

    Comment by Isobel B — March 13, 2020 @ 4:18 PM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us