Anesthesia or Anaesthsia: Types, Side Effects, Risks & More


Anesthesia is a treatment carried out with the use of anesthetics. When you are under anesthesia, you will not feel pain. The practice of anaesthesia and pain management is performed by anesthesiologists. In some cases, numbing may be localized to a small area of the body. Invasive surgical procedures require general anesthesia, during which you are rendered unconscious (asleep).

What is anesthesia?

The purpose of anesthesia is to prevent pain from being felt during medical procedures. This is done by using anesthetics, which block pain. Anaesthesia comes in different types. In addition to numbing certain areas of the body, some anesthetic medications numb the brain, so invasive surgical procedures like those within the chest, abdomen, or head may induce insomnia.

Read: Split-Brain Syndrome

How does this work?

Sensory/pain signals are temporarily blocked from reaching brain centers due to anaesthesia. The peripheral nerves are responsible for connecting the spinal cord to other parts of the body.

How is anesthesia administered?

The person performing your procedure can give you a local anesthetic if you’re having a relatively simple procedure, such as the extraction of a tooth. Physician anesthesiologists administer the anesthetic for more invasive and complex procedures. During and after surgery, they manage your pain. Anaesthesia teams can include a physician anesthesiologist, physician interns (fellows or residents), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), or certified anesthesiologist assistants (CAAs).

What are the types of anesthesia?

Based on the type and scope of the procedure, your healthcare provider will choose the type of anesthesia to use. There are several options available.

  • Local anesthesia: An area of the body is numbed with local anesthesia. Procedures such as cataract surgery, dental work, and skin biopsy can be performed under local anaesthesia. You remain awake throughout the procedure.
  • Regional anesthesia: This type of anesthesia blocks the sensation of pain in a large region of your body, such as your limb or everything below your chest. The procedure can be performed while you are awake, or you can be sedated along with the regional anesthetic. Epidurals are sometimes used to ease the pain of childbirth or for Cesarean sections (C-sections) as well as spinal blocks for hips or knees and arm blocks for hand surgery.
  • General anesthesia: When you undergo this procedure, you become unconscious and insensitive to pain. Invasive surgical or abdominal procedures caused by general anesthesia are done under general anesthesia.
  • Sedation: Sedation allows you to sleep naturally, but can be awoken or aroused easily if needed. If your surgeon or nurse has been trained to administer moderate sedation, he or she may prescribe you light sedation. Procedures such as cardiac catheterization and some colonoscopies can be performed under mild and moderate sedation. The deeper the sedation level, the more unconscious you will be, while your breathing could be affected by the stronger anesthetic drugs. The anaesthesia provider provides deep sedation because your breathing may be affected by stronger anesthetic medications. It is unlikely that you will remember the procedure even though you won’t be completely unconscious.

Read: What is Consciousness

When does anesthesia take effect?

Your healthcare provider may deliver anaesthesia via one of the following methods depending on the procedure and type of anesthesia needed:

  • Inhaled gas
  • An injection, such as a shot or intravenously
  • Topically applied liquid, spray, or patch (for the skin or eyes)

What are my preparations for anaesthesia?

Please let your healthcare provider know what medications and supplements you are taking (vitamins and herbal medications). Anaesthesia or bleeding can be complicated by certain drugs interfering with them or causing complications. Make sure to:

  • If you are going to the hospital, don’t eat or drink anything for eight hours.
  • Improve your heart and lung health by quitting smoking, even if for one day. Smoking cessation for two weeks prior to quitting has the most beneficial effects.
  • Several weeks before the procedure, stop taking herbal supplements as directed by your doctor.
  • At least 24 hours before the procedure, do not take viagra or other erectile dysfunction medications.
  • As prescribed by your healthcare provider, certain medications for high blood pressure should be taken with water.

Read: Body Integrity Identity Disorder

What happens during anesthesia?

According to a physician anesthesiologist:

  • Administers one or more of the types of anesthetics listed above and may also administer antinausea medication
  • Keep an eye on vital signs, such as blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, pulse and heart rate
  • Detects and treats problems, including allergic reactions and changes in vital signs
  • Manages postoperative pain

What should I do after getting anaesthesia?

Local anesthesia uses no general anesthesia, so you can return to work or most daily activities immediately after treatment. If you were sedated or under regional anesthesia or general anesthesia, it will take you longer to recover. It is important to:

  • Make sure you get home safely
  • Rest until the next day
  • Avoid driving or operating equipment for 24 hours
  • Don’t drink alcohol until the next day
  • Consult your doctor before taking any medications
  • Take no important legal or financial decisions until the next day

Read: Sensory Processing Disorder

What are the possible side effects of anesthesia?

There is a high probability that the majority of anaesthesia side effects will disappear within 24 hours. The effects of anesthesia can vary based on the type and how it is administered.

  • Muscle pain or back pain
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Urination problems
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • An injection site may be painful, tender, red or bruised
  • Sore throat (pharyngitis)

Read: Applied Behavior Analysis

Can anesthesia cause any complications?

Anaesthesia is administered safely to millions of Americans every year. However, it does carry a certain amount of risk. Here are some possible complications:

  • Anesthetic awareness: Each year, approximately one person out of every 1,000 who receives general anesthesia experiences awareness. Affected people may be aware of their surroundings, but unable to move or express themselves.
  • Collapsed lung (atelectasis): The collapse of a lung may result from procedures that use general anesthesia or a breathing tube. During the deflation or filling of air sacs in the lung, this uncommon problem occurs.
  • Malignant hyperthermia: This can be dangerous for people with malignant hyperthermia (MH). The condition causes muscle contractions and fever during surgery. To avoid drugs that cause MH, it is important to tell your anesthesiologist about any personal or family history of this condition.
  • Nerve damage: Nerve damage can cause temporary or permanent numbness, pain, or weakness in some people.
  • Postoperative delirium: It is more common in older adults. A person with this condition is confused for about a week. They may also have trouble learning and remembering. Postoperative cognitive dysfunction is associated with this condition.

Read: Confabulation

Is there anyone at risk?

Several factors make anesthesia more dangerous, including:

  • Advanced age
  • Kidney disease or diabetes
  • Anaesthesia allergy in the family history
  • Hypertension, heart disease, or stroke in the family history
  • Diseases of the lungs, including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Obesity (high body mass index or BMI)
  • Seizures or neurological disorders
  • Sleep apnea
  • Smoking

How long does it take to recover?

The effects of anesthesia can last up to 24 hours. You should not return to work or drive if you have received sedation, regional anesthesia, or general anesthesia. Following local anesthesia, if your healthcare provider allows it, you should be able to return to your normal activities.

Read: Capgras Syndrome

When should I contact a doctor?

Contact your healthcare provider if you experienced any of the following after undergoing anesthesia:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hives or extreme itching
  • Paralysis or numbness in your body
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble swallowing

What are the effects of anesthesia on pregnancy?

Local anaesthesia only affects a small portion of your body. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are considered safe using it. Most mothers receive an epidural block or spinal anaesthesia while they give birth safely. If you require general or regional anesthesia for elective procedures, your healthcare provider may recommend waiting until after pregnancy.

Read: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

How does anesthesia affect breastfeeding?

There are no known negative effects of anesthesia on breastfeeding mothers or their babies. Any anesthetic medication leaves the body quickly, including general anesthetics. When a patient returns to nursing their infant after a general anesthetic, it is often recommended that they express their first breast milk first.

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