What to Know Before You Get Anesthesia

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on June 09, 2021

Are you about to have a medical procedure that requires anesthesia, the medicine you get so you don't feel pain? You probably have some questions about how it works and what to expect when you get it.

What Types Are There?

It comes in three forms:

  • General anesthesia: Makes you unconscious so you can’t feel pain. You can get this type of medicine as a gas or vapor that you breathe in through a mask or tube. Or you can get it through a needle into a vein.
  • Regional anesthesia: Numbs the general area of your body where the surgery will be done. The doctor will inject medicine into a clump of nerves. One well-known type is an epidural. You get it in your spinal cord to numb your lower body. Sometimes you can get both regional anesthesia and a sedative through an IV. This is called "twilight sleep." You aren’t fully asleep, but you’re not fully awake, either.
  • Local anesthesia: The doctor numbs a much smaller area of your body where the procedure will be done. They can inject the medicine or rub it onto your skin. It’s used for minor procedures like removing a mole.

A doctor called an anesthesiologist or health professional called a nurse anesthetist will give you general and regional anesthesia. They’ll also check your breathing, heart rate, and other vital functions while you're under.

How Do I Get Ready?

You'll meet with your anesthesiologist before the procedure. They’ll ask about your medical history and what medicines you take. You might need to stop taking some drugs, like blood thinners or aspirin, a week or more before your surgery. Tell your doctor if you are taking insulin or oral hypoglycemics.

When Do I Have to Stop Eating and Drinking?

If you're getting general anesthesia, the doctor will probably ask you to stop 6 to 8 hours before the procedure. That’s so food doesn’t back up from your stomach into your lungs while you’re out. If you take medicine every day, ask your doctor if you can take it with a small sip of water on the day of surgery.

What Happens While I'm Asleep?

An anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will be with you during your surgery. They’ll give you medicine to keep you asleep for the whole procedure. They’ll also keep track of your vital signs like heart rate, body temperature, breathing, and blood pressure.

How Long Will I Be Out?

It depends on how long your surgery lasts. Once it’s done, you’ll stop getting the anesthesia. You'll wake up in a recovery room.

Will I Remember Anything?

General anesthesia isn’t like being asleep. You won't have dreams that you can remember. You shouldn't remember anything -- including the procedure.

When Will It Wear Off?

After your surgery, you'll go to a recovery room to wake up. Nurses will monitor your heart rate, breathing, and other vital signs for about 30 minutes.

As you come out of the anesthesia, you might feel groggy and confused. The drugs’ effects can take a few hours to fully wear off.

Will There Be Side Effects?

Maybe, but most are minor and temporary. It depends on which type of anesthesia you get.

Side effects from general anesthesia include:

Side effects from regional anesthesia include:

When Can I Go Home?

That depends on the type of surgery you had. Some procedures require an overnight hospital stay or longer. If you had a same-day surgery, you should be able to go home 1 to 4 hours afterward.

Will I Need a Driver?

Yes, you will need to arrange ahead of time for someone to drive you home. You won't be able to hit the road for 24 hours after the anesthesia.

What Should I Watch Out for Afterward?

If you go home on the same day as your procedure, you’ll probably notice some mild side effects until the anesthesia fully wears off:

You might also have side effects from the surgery itself. Try to take it easy for at least a day after your procedure.

WebMD Medical Reference



American Society of Anesthesiologists: "Effects of Anesthesia," "Q&A: What You Should Know Before Surgery," "Types of Anesthesia."

Hospital for Special Surgery: "Anesthesia Frequently Asked Questions."

Mayo Clinic: "General anesthesia."

Nemours Foundation: "Anesthesia Basics."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Types of Anesthesia and Your Anesthesiologist,"

NIH News in Health: "Waking Up to Anesthesia."

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