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Patient education: Anesthesia (The Basics)

Patient education: Anesthesia (The Basics)

What is anesthesia? — "Anesthesia" is a medical term for different types of medicine people get before and during surgery or another procedure. These medicines are given to make sure you do not feel pain during the procedure. In some cases, like when you are "put to sleep" for surgery, the anesthesia medicines also prevent you from remembering it afterwards.

Anesthesia medicines are given by a doctor called an "anesthesiologist." Sometimes a "nurse anesthetist" is involved, too. These are nurses with special training in anesthesia.

What are the different types of anesthesia? — There are 3 main types of anesthesia:

Local – This type of anesthesia uses medicine to numb a small part of your body so you don't feel pain. It can be given as a cream, gel, or spray on the skin. It can also be given by an injection (shot) into the skin. You might be awake when you get local anesthesia.

Anesthesiologists give local anesthesia before minor surgery such as a skin or breast biopsy. (A biopsy involves taking a tiny sample of tissue using a needle.)

Regional – This type of anesthesia blocks pain in one area of your body, such as an arm, leg, or the lower half of your body. If you get regional anesthesia, you might be awake. Or you might get medicines to make you relax and feel sleepy, called "sedatives." Sedatives are given through a thin tube that goes into a vein, called an "IV."

One type of regional anesthesia is called a "spinal block." The anesthesiologist puts a small needle in your lower back, and injects medicine to numb the nerves in your spine. It can be used for surgery done on your legs or inside your belly. Another type is an "epidural." The anesthesiologist uses a needle to put a small tube (called a "catheter") into your lower back, near the nerves in your spine. Some women get an epidural during childbirth. Other people get one for a surgical procedure or to control pain after surgery.

General – This type of anesthesia makes you unconscious so you can't feel, see, or hear anything during surgery. Some of the medicines are given through an IV. Others are gases that you breathe. You might also get a breathing tube to help you breathe. If this happens, the anesthesiologist will carefully place the tube in your throat while you are asleep during general anesthesia, and remove it before you wake up.

What does an anesthesiologist do? — An anesthesiologist will meet with you before your surgery and ask you many questions, including:

Do you have any health problems?

Do you have any dental problems, such as loose teeth or false teeth?

What medicines do you take, including over-the-counter medicines and supplements?

Do you smoke, drink alcohol, or use any illegal drugs?

Do you have any allergies to foods or medicines?

Have you or any of your relatives ever had a problem with anesthesia medicines?

The type of anesthesia you get depends on:

Your answers to the questions above

The type of surgery or procedure you are having

In some cases, you might have a choice between different types of anesthesia.

Your anesthesiologist will also tell you how your anesthesia will be given and answer any questions you have. They will continually check your breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate during the procedure. If you have general anesthesia, your anesthesiologist also makes sure you stay unconscious.

Can I wake up during general anesthesia? — It is very rare to wake up during general anesthesia (less than 1 patient in every 15,000 operations). Your anesthesiologist constantly adjusts the medicines to keep you from waking up.

Are there any side effects from anesthesia? — Each type of anesthesia has possible side effects.

If you have a spinal block or epidural, the numbness will last for a few hours after your procedure before wearing off. Other side effects can include:

Headache – There is a small chance of getting a type of headache that can last for several days. This is sometimes called a "spinal headache." It usually goes away on its own, but pain-relieving medicines and other treatments can help.

Trouble urinating – Some patients have trouble emptying their bladders for a few hours after surgery until the anesthetic wears off.

If you have general anesthesia, you will likely feel a little groggy or confused for a short time after waking up. Other side effects can include:

Feeling sick to your stomach (nausea) and throwing up (vomiting) – Your anesthesiologist can give you medicines for this problem.

A sore throat – This can happen if you had a breathing tube. It usually gets better quickly.

What else should I know about anesthesia? — Keeping you safe is your anesthesiologist's main concern. Before surgery, you should feel comfortable asking your anesthesiologist any questions about the risks and benefits of anesthesia, and the type of anesthesia that is best for you. After surgery, your anesthesiologist will check on you as you recover.

More on this topic

Patient education: Managing pain after surgery (The Basics)
Patient education: Managing pain during labor and delivery (The Basics)
Patient education: Questions to ask if you are having surgery or a procedure (The Basics)
Patient education: Anesthesia for elective eye surgery (The Basics)
Patient education: Anesthesia for c-section (cesarean delivery) (The Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 03, 2022.
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