General anesthesia is medicine used to put the entire body to sleep. It blocks the brain from feeling pain and keeps you unconscious. General anesthesia is given by doctors trained in anesthesia. They carefully balance the amount of medicine that is needed.
General anesthesia is used for a surgery or a procedure that would be uncomfortable if you were awake. The medicine will help to:
Many steps are taken to prevent problems. Possible risks include:
Things that can increase the risk of problems are history of:
You will meet with a specialist before surgery. They will ask about overall health and any previous reaction to anesthesia. It is also important they know about any medicine that you are taking.
Food and drink may need to be avoided starting the night before the surgery.
Some medicine may be given before anesthesia. It can help to prevent problems, such as nausea and vomiting. General anesthesia is broken down into 3 phases:
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The care team will watch closely for any problems.
The time will depend on the type of surgery.
General anesthesia numbs all pain. The brain will not sense any pain signals.
The hospital stay will depend on the surgery. A poor reaction to anesthesia may require a longer stay as well.
Anesthesia can have some effects for 24 hours or longer. It may include fatigue or nausea. Major decisions or dangerous activity should be avoided.
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. Call your doctor if there are:
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. Accessed February 13, 2021.
General anesthesia. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/general-anesthesia. Accessed February 13, 2021.
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 June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 6/3/2021