Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Font Size

Sizing Up Surgery

'Going Under'

Anesthesia is the art and science of relieving pain and keeping patients safe and stable during surgery. But for patients already nervous about their impending surgery, the idea of being unconscious may not be a comforting thought, especially if it's coupled with the fear of not regaining consciousness.

According to L. Melvin Elting, former Chief of Surgery at Riverdell Hospital in New Jersey, and Seymour Isenberg of the Kansas City College of Osteopathy and Surgery, authors of The Consumer's Guide to Successful Surgery, although many people associate anesthesia with regular sleeping, slumber is only a side effect. If you were to go to sleep and surgery began, you'd wake up in a hurry. While sleep involves a dousing of the highest brain recognition centers derived from the senses, it would take only a mild stimulus to peak them to alarm.

The unconsciousness or "deep sleep" required for surgery is another matter. The deep sleep that is required for loss of sensation of pain occurs in stages, beginning with a gradual dozing off to an eventual drifting into paralysis so that the nerve responses are dampened. Unconsciousness must then be maintained during surgery so that patients are not aware of their surroundings and do not experience pain.

Problems traditionally associated with anesthesia such as drug hangover, nausea, and awareness have been lessened over the years by better drugs, improved monitoring, and specialized training.

Waking to a Nightmare

Although it is rare, some patients have reported "awareness" or experiencing sensations while under anesthesia. Those patients say they recall hearing snatches of conversations, being aware of movement, and feeling pain. But whether this awareness really occurs or is just the subconscious mind playing tricks that come back to haunt the conscious mind has been subject to a lot of debate in the medical community. According to Elting and Isenberg, when the anesthesia is weak, or the depth of unconsciousness is purposely held shallow, the subconscious may provide its own interpretations of what is happening and those interpretations may not necessarily be accurate.

But whether or not awareness is real, anesthesiologists are always on the lookout for indications of "light" anesthesia, such as sweating or involuntary twitching. In these cases, says Brenda Hayden, R.N., an interdisciplinary scientist with FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the anesthesiologist would increase the anesthesia to put the patient in a deeper state of unconsciousness.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

disciplining a boy
Types, symptoms, causes.
Remember your finger
Are You Getting More Forgetful?
fruit drinks
Eat these to think better.
No gym workout
Moves to help control blood sugar.
acupuncture needle on shoulder
10 tips to look and feel good.
Close up of eye
12 reasons you're distracted.
birth control pills
Which kind is right for you?
embarrassed woman
Do you feel guilty after eating?
Epinephrine Injection using Auto-Injector Syringe
Life-threatening triggers.
woman biting a big ice cube
Habits that wreck your teeth.
pacemaker next to xray
Treatment options.
caregiver with parent
10 tips for daily life.

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.