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What is anesthesia used for?

Anesthesia is a medicine given during childbirth, surgery or a procedure so that you won't feel pain. It helps keep you relaxed and calm during the procedure. The type of anesthesia you have will depend on your medical history, any allergies you have to medicines, the results of any tests you have and a physical exam, as well as the type of procedure you have having done.

How does it work?

The main types of anesthesia are local, regional, and general.

  • Local anesthesia numbs the part of your body where you will have the surgery. It is used for simple procedures, such as sewing up a cut or removing a skin growth. The medicine is usually given as a shot into the area. If the nose or mouth needs to be numbed, it may be done using nose drops or a spray.
  • Regional anesthesia numbs a larger area of the body than local anesthesia. It takes effect quickly and blocks pain. It may be used for many operations below the waist, such as operations on the rectum, bladder, prostate, and legs. Major types of regional anesthesia are:
    • Spinal anesthesia, which is given with a needle in the spine. The drug takes effect quickly. It blocks pain in the lower body and keeps you from moving.
    • Epidural anesthesia, which is also given with a needle in the spine. The dose is adjusted so that the nerves that carry pain signals are blocked, but you are able to move.
    • Peripheral nerve block, which is given near a specific nerve or group of nerves. The pain is then blocked. This type of anesthesia is often used for procedures on the hands, arms, feet, legs, or face.
  • General anesthesia relaxes your muscles, puts you to sleep, and keeps you from feeling pain. It also keeps you from remembering the operation. The anesthetic may be given through a vein (IV) or as a gas breathed in through a mask or tube placed in your throat. Often both a gas and IV medicine are given.

    While you are asleep you will have a tube in your throat to help you breathe and to make sure you are getting enough oxygen. The tube may be removed before you wake up after the surgery.

What else do I need to know about anesthesia?

  • Many medicines have side effects. A side effect is a symptom or problem that is caused by the medicine. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist what side effects the anesthetic or other medicines may cause and what you should do if you have side effects.
  • Keep a list of your medicines with you. List all of the prescription medicines, nonprescription medicines, supplements, natural remedies, and vitamins that you take. Tell all healthcare providers who treat you about all of the products you are taking.

If you have any questions, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist for more information. Be sure to keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-12
Last reviewed: 2010-10-12
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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