The Different Types and Uses of Anesthesia


General anesthesia was first utilized in the middle of the 19th century. Many early forms of anesthesia, such as ether and cocaine, were extremely unpredictable and dangerous. Fortunately for us, anesthesiologists can now choose from a variety of different drugs to ensure that patients are pain-free during surgery.

The Role of Anesthesia:

Anesthesia serves three important functions:

• General anesthesia causes a loss of consciousness and memory. This spares you from remembering the actual trauma of your surgery.

• Anesthesia blocks sensation, so you do not feel pain during the procedure.

• Anesthesia blocks your autonomic reflexes. These are the reflexes that control your “fight or flight” response. Without anesthesia, your heart rate, respirations, and other functions could become dangerously elevated during the surgery.

• Anesthesia helps your muscles relax, which reduces post-surgical pain.

• Mild anesthesia causes sedation to keep you calm during a procedure.

Types of Anesthesia:

The kind of surgery you are having will dictate the type of anesthesia used. The most common types of anesthesia include:

• Local Anesthesia—This type of anesthesia is used in minor surgical procedures when only a small area needs to be numbed, and the patient is to remain conscious during the procedure.

• Regional Anesthesia—A regional anesthetic penetrates deeper than local anesthetic but still only numbs a particular part of the body. Spinal and epidural anesthetics are examples of regional anesthesia. This type of anesthesia is frequently used in childbirth and orthopedic procedures involving the legs.

Other types of regional anesthesia include nerve blocks where the anesthesia is injected around major nerves in the affected part of the body.

• General Anesthesia—This type of anesthesia affects the entire body. Patients undergoing general anesthesia are completely unconscious and do have not any memory of the procedure. General anesthesia is typically administered by mask or injection. A breathing tube is inserted during general anesthesia to allow breathing to be controlled.

Consulting with Your Anesthesiologist:

Before undergoing any type of anesthesia, there are important considerations that you should discuss with your anesthesiologist:

• Let your surgeon and anesthesiologist know if you have had any adverse reactions to anesthesia in the past.

• Discuss any medication allergies.

• Inform the anesthesiologist of all your medications, including over-the-counter meds and herbal supplements.

• Let your anesthesiologist know if you smoke, drink alcohol, or use street drugs. This conversation may be uncomfortable, but you should remember that your information is held in strict confidence.

It is common for patients to feel groggy and a little nauseous after anesthesia. In most cases, the effects of anesthesia to begin to wear off in eight to 12 hours. Some patients, especially the elderly, can experience vivid dreams and mild confusion for several months after undergoing general anesthesia.