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.
Reasons for Procedure
General anesthesia is used for a surgery or a procedure that would make you uncomfortable if you were awake. The medications will help to:
Relax the muscles
Helps manage certain bodily reflexes
Prevent awareness of what is happening
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:
Allergic reaction to anesthetic used
Nerve damage or skin breakdown from positioning on the operating table
You will meet with an anesthesiologist before surgery and will be asked about:
Your health history and your family's health history—Tell your doctor if you have had anesthesia before and your reaction to it. Tell your doctor about your family's history with anesthesia.
Medications that you take, including
herbs and supplements—These can have an effect on how the anesthesia works.
Before the procedure:
You will need to fast the night before surgery.
You may need to take certain medications in the morning before surgery.
Description of the Procedure
General anesthesia is broken down into three phases:
Induction phase—Medications will be given that result in the loss of consciousness. These will be given through an IV or through gas into the lungs. A breathing tube will be placed down your windpipe. This will be attached to a machine that helps you continue to breathe normally.
Middle or maintenance phase—Medications will be given based on your responses. They will help to keep you asleep or regulate your body functions.
Recovery or emergence
phase—The doctor will slowly reverse the anesthesia. New medications will allow you to wake up. When you are starting to awaken and are breathing on your own, the breathing tube will be removed.
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
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