Anesthesia is the administration of medications to prevent pain, provide sedation or unconsciousness, maintain stable vital signs and create optimum conditions for your surgical or medical procedure. The type of anesthesia you are given is an important decision and depends on many factors including your health, your medical history, the type of procedure you are having, your personal choice and your care team's expertise.
Local anesthesia produces a loss of feeling to a small, specific area of the body. This is usually a one-time injection of medicine to numb a small area for a procedure such as having a mole or skin cancer removed.
General anesthesia affects the entire body and produces unconsciousness and blockade of pain during surgery. General anesthesia is produced by continuous administration of anesthetic medications through an IV, or inhaled through a mask or breathing tube, or a combination of both.
General anesthesia is more than just being asleep; the anesthetized brain doesn’t respond to pain signals or reflexes. This type of anesthesia is used for major surgeries, such as open-heart surgery, and may be combined with other types of anesthesia, such as regional for knee or hip surgery.
Regional anesthesia is the process of putting a part of your body (a region) to sleep by using numbing medicine injected through a needle.
For most surgeries, regional anesthesia is combined with medicines given through an IV to provide relaxation and sleep (sedation). However, for certain surgeries, instead of regional anesthesia with IV sedation, the regional block is combined with general anesthesia (unconsciousness), and the numbing block is used primarily to provide pain relief after the procedure.
4 Types of Regional Anesthesia
- Peripheral Nerve Block – An anesthetic agent is injected directly near a nerve to block pain. These numbing medicines are usually given before surgery and last for many hours after surgery to provide pain relief.
- Epidural – An anesthetic is injected after using a needle to place a thin tube (catheter) between the bones of the back to numb the body in a targeted area. This is commonly used for childbirth, but also for many abdominal and chest surgeries, and the numbing medicine may be continued for hours to days.
- Spinal – A thin needle is placed between the bones of your back and a single injection of numbing medicine is made to numb both legs usually up to your waist.
- Abdominal Wall Block – A needle is placed in between the inner muscles of the abdominal wall using ultrasound guidance. Numbing medicine is then injected to bathe the nerves that provide sensation to the abdomen.
Sedation is the use of drugs to relax you and may be used in combination with anesthesia. Effects of sedation vary depending on the type of sedation your provider has determined you need:
- Relaxed and awake – You can answer questions and follow directions.
- Relaxed and drowsy – You may sleep through much of the procedure. You may hear sounds and voices around you. You can be easily awakened when spoken to or touched.
- Drowsy to lightly sleeping – You may have little to no memory of the procedure. Your breathing slows and you may be given oxygen. You may sleep until the drugs wear off.