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General anesthesia is the use of medications to put the entire body to sleep. It puts you into a state of unconsciousness. During this time, the brain cannot feel any pain.
Doctors trained in anesthesia carefully balance the amount of medication needed by keeping an eye on vital signs.
General anesthesia is used for a surgery or a procedure that would make you uncomfortable if you were awake. The medications will help to:
Every precaution is used to prevent complications. Often, medications are given in advance to prevent certain problems, such as nausea and vomiting. Even so, complications may occur. These may include:
Certain factors can increase your risk of complications. Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors such as:
You will meet with an anesthesiologist before surgery and will be asked about:
Before the procedure:
General anesthesia is broken down into three phases:
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As you wake up, you will be watched closely for any problems. Any pain and discomfort caused by the surgery itself can be managed with medications.
The length of time anesthesia is needed will depend on the type of surgery.
General anesthesia numbs all pain. Since you are asleep, your brain will not sense any pain signals.
How long you spend in the hospital depends on:
When you have recovered from anesthesia, you will be sent to a hospital room or home. For the first 24 hours or longer, avoid doing activities that require your attention, such as driving.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection such as:
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
American Society of Anesthesiologists
Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society
Anesthesia—what to expect. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/anesthesia.html. Updated September 2015. Accessed October 2, 2017.
General anesthesia. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/general-anesthesia. Updated August 2015. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Pollard R, Coyle J, Gilbert R, Beck J. Intraoperative awareness in a regional medical system: A review of 3 years' data. Anesthesiology. 2007;106(2)269-274.
Sackel DJ. Anesthesia awareness: an analysis of its incidence, the risk factors involved, and prevention. J Clin Anesth. 2006;18(7):483-485.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 2/7/2018