Anesthesia: FAQs

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What is anesthesia?

Anesthesia is a drug that prevents patients from feeling pain or dramatically reduces pain during surgery or childbirth.

Are anesthesiologists doctors?

Yes. Anesthesiologists are highly trained doctors who specialize in this particular field. They receive the same amount of education as other doctors. Their training includes four years of anesthesiology residency, as well as additional fellowship training in certain subspecialties.

What are the different types of anesthesia?

There are four types:

  • General anesthesia, used for major operations, causes loss of consciousness or puts you to sleep and makes you unable to move.
  • Sedation, often used for minimally invasive surgery, blocks pain and causes sleepiness, but doesn’t put you to sleep.
  • Regional anesthesia, such as an epidural or a nerve block, numbs a large part of the body while you remain awake. Doctors often use regional anesthesia with sedation or general anesthesia.
  • Local anesthesia numbs just a small area of your body for minor procedures, such as getting stitches or having a mole removed.

How do doctors give you anesthesia?

You can have anesthetic drugs through injection, inhalation, topical lotion, spray, eye drops or skin patches.

How is general anesthesia administered?

For adults and older children, general anesthesia is given through an intravenous (IV) line.

Young children can inhale anesthesia through a mask or tube, getting an IV after becoming unconscious.

How long does it take for anesthesia to kick in?

General anesthesia usually puts you to sleep in less than 30 seconds.

Do I get to decide which anesthesia I want?

It depends on the type of surgery, but it’s a discussion between you, the surgeon and anesthesiologist. To make the best decision, your doctors will want to know your:

  • Medical history, including any reactions to previous anesthesia
  • Current medications or over-the-counter medicine
  • Known allergies

How dangerous is general anesthesia?

Better monitoring technology and improved anesthetic drugs make general anesthesia safe for healthy patients.

You'll have an increased risk from surgery and anesthesia if you have significant health conditions, such as heart or kidney problems. Your surgeon and anesthesia team will perform a thorough medical history and physical exam before surgery to assess your risk.

Why do I have to not eat before surgery?

If you eat before surgery, the content in your stomach can get into your lungs while you’re under anesthesia. This is called aspiration — when your body breathes vomit. This situation can be life-threatening.

What are the side effects of anesthesia?

After having anesthesia, you might experience:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sore throat
  • Grogginess

How does general anesthesia affect my brain and body?

General anesthesia prevents your body from moving while you're unconscious. Still, it's possible for your body to move a little. Since even small movements can be dangerous for some surgeries, in those cases, you'll also get a muscle relaxer. 

Can I get have an allergic reaction to anesthesia?

Sometimes people have an allergic reaction to anesthetic drugs. Symptoms are similar to any other allergic reaction. If you’ve experienced a reaction before, let your anesthesiologist know.

Do you stop breathing during general anesthesia?

No. After you’re unconscious, your anesthesiologist places a breathing tube in your mouth and nose to make sure you maintain proper breathing during the procedure.

Does the anesthesiologist stay with me the whole time I’m unconscious?

Yes. Your anesthesiologist directs the anesthesia team of anesthesiology residents and nurses. A member of the anesthesia team will stay by your side to monitor your vital signs and breathing throughout the operation. This also ensures you’re consistently receiving the right dose of anesthesia. The anesthesiologist will frequently check on you during your care.

How long does anesthesia last?

The timeline varies:

  • IV pain medication can help for up to 8 hours
  • A nerve block can help manage pain for 12-24 hours
  • Spinal blocks can alleviate pain for 24-48 hours
  • Epidurals are the longest-lasting, easing pain for up to 4-5 days

How long does it take to recover from anesthesia?

It depends on the type of surgery you’ve had and your individual situation.

What if I feel pain after the anesthesia wears off?

Your anesthesiologist can help with pain management after the initial anesthesia wears off.