What is general anesthesia?

Anesthesia is routinely administered to put patients to sleep during surgery, but it comes with inherent risks.
Anesthesia is routinely administered to put patients to sleep during surgery, but it comes with inherent risks.

General anesthesia is a state of unconsciousness induced under medical supervision for certain types of surgery. Typically, an anesthesiologist administers a combination of medicines to make the patient unconscious and relax the muscles. General anesthesia prevents the patient from feeling any sensations at all while surgeons perform procedures that would otherwise cause unbearable pain.

General anesthesia works by interrupting nerve signals in the brain and body. It prevents the brain from processing pain and from remembering what happened during your surgery.

What are the three types of anesthesia?

The anesthetist decides on the form of anesthesia depending on the surgery or procedure to be done. 3 types of anesthesia are:

  • Local anesthesia - to numb an area for minor procedures
  • Regional anesthesia - to numb a specific portion of the body
  • General anesthesia - to keep the patient unconscious for long periods

Why do I need general anesthesia?

General anesthesia is usually to keep a patient painless and asleep during surgeries that:

  • take a long time
  • are done over a large area of the body
  • affect breathing or blood circulation
  • involve major organs like heart or brain
  • can cause heavy blood loss

How is anesthesia given?

A specially trained doctor or nurse, called an anesthetist or anesthesiologist, gives you the anesthetic medications and cares for you before, during, and after the surgery.

Pre-surgery

  • First, the anesthetist goes through the patient’s medical history to learn of any pertinent test results, known reactions to drugs, etc.
  • They will then administer the anesthesia through an IV (intravenous) line that goes into a vein in the arm or hand.
  • The patient might also breathe a gaseous medication through a mask.
  • Once the patient is unconscious, the anesthetist may insert an endotracheal tube through their mouth into the windpipe to maintain oxygen supply.

During surgery

The anesthetic team will keep the patient unconscious by constantly adjusting the dosage of the medication. They will continuously monitor vital functions including

  • breathing,
  • temperature,
  • blood pressure,
  • heart rate,
  • oxygen levels, and
  • fluid levels.

Post-surgery

At the end of the surgery the anesthetist, in consultation with the surgeon, will withdraw the anesthesia in a planned manner.

  • They will give medication to reverse excessive muscle relaxation.
  • They also give sufficient pain medicine and sedation so that the patient does not feel pain post-surgery.
  • They will continue to monitor in the post-operative ward until the endotracheal tube is removed and the vital functions are stable.
  • It may require a whole day to fully recover from the effects of anesthesia.

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Can you die from general anesthesia?

General anesthesia is quite safe, and even people with certain health conditions tolerate anesthesia without much problem. It does have a few risks and side effects, and some individuals may have rare complications. But the benefits of pain-free surgery almost always outweigh the risks of anesthesia.

Risks while under anesthesia:

Anesthesia precautions

  • In preparation for the surgery the doctor will ask you to:
  • Lose weight if possible.
  • Stop taking blood thinners and herbal supplements, if any, a week or so before surgery.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Not eat or drink anything for 8 hours before surgery.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/7/2020
References
Medscape Reference
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