No doubt about it, getting an operation can be stressful. If you're scheduled for
surgery, you may have questions
or concerns about anesthesia. The thought of being unconscious or temporarily losing
sensation can be downright unnerving.
From a minor procedure with a shot to numb the area to a more serious surgery in
which you will be "asleep," knowing the basics about anesthesia may help answer your
questions and ease some concerns.
Anesthesia is the use of medicine to prevent or reduce the feeling of pain or sensation
during surgery or other painful procedures (such as getting stitches). Given as an
injection or through inhaled gases or vapors, different types of anesthesia affect
the nervous system in various ways by blocking nerve impulses and, therefore, pain.
In today's hospitals and surgical centers, highly trained professionals use a wide
variety of safe, modern medicine and extremely capable monitoring technology. An anesthesiologist
is a doctor who specializes in giving and managing anesthetics — the medications
that numb an area of the body or help you fall and stay asleep.
In addition to giving anesthesia medicine to prepare you for the surgery, the anesthesiologist
monitor your major bodily functions (such as breathing, heart rate and rhythm,
body temperature, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels) during surgery
address any problems that might arise during surgery
manage any pain you may have after surgery
keep you as comfortable as possible before, during, and after surgery
A specially trained certified registerednurse anesthetist(CRNA), fellow orresident physician,
or student nurse anesthetist, who work with the anesthesiologist
and surgeon, may assist in giving you anesthesia. CRNAs may work under the supervision
of a anesthesiologist or on their own — it all depends on the state or hospital.
What Are the Types of Anesthesia?
Anesthesia is broken down into three main categories: general, regional, and local.
All of these can be given through various methods using medicines that affect the
Think of the brain as a central computer that controls all the body's functions
and the nervous system as a network that relays messages back and forth from the brain
to different parts of the body. It does this via the spinal cord, which runs from
the brain down through the backbone and contains threadlike nerves that branch out
to every organ and body part.
General anesthesia. The goal is to make and keep the person completely
unconscious (or "asleep") during the operation, with no sensations, feeling of pain,
awareness, movement, or memory of the surgery. General anesthesia can be given through
an IV (which requires a needle stick into a vein, usually in the arm) or by inhaling
gases or vapors.
Regional anesthesia. An anesthetic drug is injected near a cluster
of nerves, numbing a larger area of the body (such as below the waist). Most people
who are given regional anesthesia are deeply sedated or asleep for the procedure.
Rarely, older kids or those might be at risk by being asleep may be awake or lightly
sedated for this type of anesthesia.
Local anesthesia. An anesthetic drug numbs only a small, specific
part of the body (for example, a hand or patch of skin). Depending on the size of
the area, local anesthesia can be given as a shot, spray, or ointment. With local
anesthesia, a person may be awake, sedated, or asleep. Local anesthesia is often used
for minor surgeries and outpatient procedures (when patients come in for an operation
and can go home that same day). If you are having surgery in a clinic or doctor's
office (such as the dentist or dermatologist), this is probably the type of anesthetic
that will be used.
The type and amount of anesthesia will be specifically tailored to your needs and
will depend on various factors, including your age and weight, the type and area of
the surgery, any allergies you may have, and your current medical condition.
What Are the Common Side Effects?
You will most likely feel disoriented, groggy, and a little confused when waking
up after surgery. Some other common side effects, which should go away fairly quickly,
nausea or vomiting, which can usually be alleviated with anti-nausea medication
chills or shakiness
sore throat (if a tube was used to help with breathing)
What Are the Risks?
Anesthesia today is very safe. In very rare cases, anesthesia can cause complications
(such as strange heart rhythms, breathing problems, allergic reactions to medications,
and even death). The risks depend on the kind of procedure, the condition of the patient,
and the type of anesthesia used. Be sure to talk to your doctor, surgeon, and/or anesthesiologist
about any concerns.
Most complications can be prevented by giving the anesthesiologist complete information
before the surgery about things like:
your current and past health (including diseases or conditions such as recent
or current colds, or other issues such as snoring or depression)
any medications (prescription and over-the-counter), supplements, or herbal remedies
you are taking
any allergies (especially to foods, medications, or latex) you may have
whether you smoke, drink alcohol, or take any recreational drugs
any previous reactions you or any family member has had to anesthesia
To ensure your safety during the surgery or procedure, it's extremely important
to answer all of the anesthesiologist's questions as honestly and thoroughly as possible.
Things that may seem harmless could affect how you react to the anesthesia.
It's also important that you follow the doctor's recommendations about what not
to do before the surgery. You probably won't be able to eat or drink (usually nothing
after midnight the day before) and may need to stop taking herbal supplements or other
medications for a certain period of time before surgery.
You can rest assured that the safety of anesthetic procedures has improved a lot
over the years, thanks to advances in technology and the extensive training anesthesiologists
receive. The more informed, calm, and reassured you are about the surgery and the
safety of anesthesia, the easier the experience will probably be.