Medical Definition of Nitrous oxide (laughing gas)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Nitrous oxide (laughing gas): A gas that can cause general anesthesia. Nitrous oxide is sometimes given in the company of other anesthetic agents but it is not used today as the only anesthetic agent because the concentration of nitrous oxide needed to produce anesthesia is close to the concentration that seriously lowers the blood oxygen level and creates a hazardous hypoxic state.

Nitrous oxide figured in the history of anesthesiology. In 1840 a dentist named Horace Wells had the idea that, with the recently discovered "exhilarating or laughing gas", teeth might be extracted without pain. Under its influence he had one of his own teeth pulled in 1844 and afterwards frequently used it in his practice.

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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