Anesthesia is a treatment using drugs called anesthetics. These drugs keep you from feeling pain during medical procedures. Anesthesiologists are medical doctors who administer anesthesia and manage pain. Some anesthesia numbs a small area of the body. General anesthesia makes you unconscious (asleep) during invasive surgical procedures.
What is anesthesia?
Anesthesia is a medical treatment that keeps you from feeling pain during procedures or surgery. The medications used to block pain are called anesthetics. Different types of anesthesia work in different ways. Some anesthetic medications numb certain parts of the body, while other medications numb the brain, to induce a sleep through more invasive surgical procedures, like those within the head, chest, or abdomen.
How does anesthesia work?
Anesthesia temporarily blocks sensory/pain signals from nerves to the centers in the brain. Your peripheral nerves connect the spinal cord to the rest of your body.
Who performs anesthesia?
If you’re having a relatively simple procedure like a tooth extraction that requires numbing a small area, the person performing your procedure can administer the local anesthetic. For more complex and invasive procedures, your anesthetic will be administered by a physician anesthesiologist. This medical doctor manages your pain before, during and after surgery. In addition to your physician anesthesiologist, your anesthesia team can be comprised of physicians in training (fellows or residents), a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), or a certified anesthesiologist assistant (CAA).
What are the types of anesthesia?
The anesthesia your healthcare provider uses depends on the type and scope of the procedure. Options include:
- Local anesthesia: This treatment numbs a small section of the body. Examples of procedures in which local anesthesia could be used include cataract surgery, a dental procedure or skin biopsy. You’re awake during the procedure.
- Regional anesthesia: Regional anesthesia blocks pain in a larger part of your body, such as a limb or everything below your chest. You are can be conscious during the procedure, or have sedation in addition to the regional anesthetic. Examples include an epidural to ease the pain of childbirth or during a cesarean section (C-section), a spinal for hip or knee surgery, or an arm block for hand surgery.
- General anesthesia: This treatment makes you unconscious and insensitive to pain or other stimuli. General anesthesia is used for more invasive surgical procedures, or procedures of the head, chest, or abdomen.
- Sedation: Sedation relaxes you to the point where you will have a more natural sleep, but can be easily aroused or awakened. Light sedation can be prescribed by the person performing your procedure, or together with a regular nurse, if they both have training to provide moderate sedation. Examples of procedures performed with light or moderate sedation include cardiac catheterization and some colonoscopies. Deep sedation is provided by an anesthesia professional because your breathing may be affected with the stronger anesthetic medications, but you will be more asleep than with light or moderate sedation. Although you won’t be completely unconscious, you are not as likely to remember the procedure.
How should I prepare for anesthesia?
Make sure your healthcare provider has a current list of the medications and supplements (vitamins and herbal medications) you take. Certain drugs can interact with anesthesia or cause bleeding and increase the risk of complications. You should also:
- Avoid food and drinks for eight hours before you go to the hospital unless directed otherwise.
- Quit smoking, even if it’s just for one day before the procedure, to improve heart and lung health. The most beneficial effects are seen with no smoking for two weeks before.
- Stop taking herbal supplements for one to two weeks before the procedure as directed by your provider.
- Not take Viagra® or other medications for erectile dysfunction at least 24 hours before the procedure.
- You should take certain (but not all) blood pressure medications with a sip of water as instructed by your healthcare provider.
What happens during anesthesia?
A physician anesthesiologist:
- Administers one type or a combination of anesthetics listed above pain therapies, and possibly anti-nausea medications.
- Monitors vital signs, including blood pressure, blood oxygen level, pulse and heart rate.
- Identifies and manages problems, such as an allergic reaction or a change in vital signs.
- Provides postsurgical pain management.
What should I do after getting anesthesia?
For procedures using local anesthesia, you can return to work or most activities after treatment unless your healthcare provider says otherwise. You’ll need more time to recover if you’ve received regional or general anesthesia or sedation. You should:
- Have someone drive you home.
- Rest for the remainder of the day.
- Not drive or operate equipment for 24 hours.
- Abstain from alcohol for 24 hours.
- Only take medications or supplements approved by your provider.
- Avoid making any important or legal decisions for 24 hours.
How long does it take to recover from anesthesia?
Anesthetic drugs can stay in your system for up to 24 hours. If you’ve had sedation or regional or general anesthesia, you shouldn’t return to work or drive until the drugs have left your body. After local anesthesia, you should be able to resume normal activities, as long as your healthcare provider says it’s okay.