Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Pain Management Health Center

Font Size

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:

Recommended Related to Pain Management

Swollen Glands

Your throat is sore, your head is in pain, and you feel absolutely miserable. Upon hearing this, the first thing your health care provider will probably do is check for swollen lymph nodes, or "swollen glands." Swollen glands are a sign that your body is battling an infection or another type of illness. Read on to learn about some of the conditions that can cause swollen glands, and find out what to do if you have one of them.

Read the Swollen Glands article > >

  • 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 anesthesia through a vein (intravenously, or IV), or you may breathe it in. With this kind, you're unaware and don't feel pain during the surgery. You may also forget the surgery and the time right after it.

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 an allergic 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.

1|2|3

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 30, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

pain in brain and nerves
Top causes and how to find relief.
knee exercise
8 exercises for less knee pain.
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
 
illustration of nerves in hand
Slideshow
lumbar spine
Slideshow
 
Woman opening window
Slideshow
Man holding handful of pills
Video
 
Woman shopping for vegetables
Slideshow
Sore feet with high heel shoes
Slideshow
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Slideshow
man with a migraine
Slideshow