June 14, 2005
New Genetic Test May Detect Risk of Rare Complication From Anesthesia
A rare but potentially life-threatening inherited condition called malignant hyperthermia (MH) may strike surgical patients who receive common drugs for general anesthesia. Usually there is no outward sign of a problem before the drugs are given, but the drugs may trigger abnormal metabolic responses, such as a rapid rise in body temperature, muscle rigidity and other complications that may constitute a medical emergency.
Approximately one in 10,000 persons have a susceptibility to MH; most will not know this unless they receive general anesthesia. Currently, the only test for MH susceptibility requires a muscle biopsy done at a few specialized diagnostic centers. However, a newly offered genetic test requires only a blood sample from a patient suspected to be at risk for MH. The test detects 25 to 50 percent of the mutations known to make one susceptible to the condition. If physicians know that a patient has this genetic susceptibility, they can substitute other anesthesia drugs when surgery is required.
Dr. Litman is a nationally recognized expert on MH, having chaired panels on the topic at anesthesiology conferences. He also serves on a national emergency hotline for physicians, sponsored by the Malignant Hyperthermia Association of the United States.
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