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Anesthesia - Topic Overview

What is anesthesia?

Anesthesia is a way to control pain during a surgery or procedure by using medicine called anesthetics. It can help control your breathing, blood pressure, blood flow, and heart rate and rhythm.

Anesthesia may be used to:

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  • Relax you.
  • Block pain.
  • Make you sleepy or forgetful.
  • Make you unconscious for your surgery.

Other medicines may be used along with anesthesia, such as ones to help you relax or to reverse the effects of anesthesia.

What are the types of anesthesia?

  • Local anesthesiaLocal anesthesia numbs a small part of the body for minor procedures. For example, you may get a shot of medicine directly into the surgical area to block pain. You may stay awake during the procedure.
  • Regional anesthesiaRegional anesthesia blocks pain to a larger part of your body. You may also get medicine to help you relax or sleep. Types of regional anesthesia include:
    • Peripheral nerve blocks. This is a shot of anesthetic to block pain around a specific nerve or group of nerves. Blocks are often used for procedures on the hands, arms, feet, legs, or face.
    • Epidural and spinal anesthesia. This is a shot of anesthetic near the spinal cord and the nerves that connect to it. It blocks pain from an entire region of the body, such as the belly, hips, or legs.
  • General anesthesiaGeneral anesthesia affects your brain and the rest of your body. You may get some anesthetics through a vein (intravenously, or IV), and you may breathe in some anesthetics. With general anesthesia, you're unconscious and you don't feel pain during the surgery.

What determines the type of anesthesia used?

The type of anesthesia used depends on several things:

  • Your past and current health. This includes other surgeries you have had and the health problems you have, such as heart disease or diabetes. Tell your doctor if you or any family members have had a serious reaction to anesthetics or other medicines.
  • The type of surgery. For example, you may need general anesthesia to ensure your comfort and safety during certain types of surgery.
  • The results of tests, such as blood tests or an electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG).

Your doctor or nurse may prefer one type of anesthesia over another for your surgery. In some cases, your doctor or nurse may let you choose which type to have. Sometimes, such as in an emergency, you don't get to choose.

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