What is anesthesia? — Anesthesia is a term that doctors use for different types of medicine they give people before surgery or another procedure. These medicines work by making sure that you do not:
• Feel pain
• Move during the surgery or procedure
• Remember the surgery or procedure
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.
Doctors give local anesthesia before minor surgery, such as a skin or breast biopsy. A biopsy is when a doctor takes a tiny sample of tissue using a needle.
• Regional – This type of anesthesia blocks pain in a large area of your body, such as an arm, leg, or the lower half of your body. One type is called a “spinal block.” The doctor puts a small needle in your lower back. The needle goes into the fluid around your spinal cord, which is the bundle of nerves that runs down your back. He or she then injects medicines that block pain and relax your muscles so you do not move. It can be used for surgery done on your legs or inside your belly.
Another type is an “epidural.” The doctor uses a needle to put a small tube (called a “catheter”) into your lower back, near the nerves around the spinal cord. Some women get epidurals during childbirth. Other people get them for a surgical procedure or to control pain after surgery.
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 small tube put into a vein, called
• 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 through a mask that is placed over your mouth and nose. You might also get a breathing tube, which is a tube that goes down the throat and into the lungs. The other end is attached to a machine that helps with breathing. A specialist doctor called an “anesthesiologist” gives general anesthesia.
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 reaction to 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, your surgeon might want to use a certain type of anesthesia. And 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. He or she will carefully check your breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate during the procedure to make sure you stay pain free. 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 checks on your reactions during the surgery and adjusts the medicines to keep you from waking up.
Are there any side effects from anesthesia? — Each type of anesthesia has side effects. If you have a spinal block or epidural, you might feel numb for a short time after the surgery or procedure. You also might have trouble urinating. In rare cases, people bleed or get an infection where the needle went into their body. These problems usually go away within a few days.
When you wake up from general anesthesia, you will likely feel a little groggy or confused. Other side effects can include:
• Feeling sick to your stomach (nausea) and throwing up (vomiting) – Your doctor can give you medicines for this problem.
• A sore throat – This can happen if you had a breathing tube. It usually gets better soon. People who have certain medical conditions or certain types of surgery can have trouble breathing after surgery and general anesthesia. People who have this problem sometimes need to keep the breathing tube and stay on the machine that helps with breathing for a while after surgery. They remain sedated for the entire time that the breathing tube is in place. Your anesthesiologist will explain whether you are likely to have breathing problems before your surgery.
What else should I know about anesthesia? — 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. Patient safety during surgery has greatly improved over the years, and this is your anesthesiologist’s primary concern.