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.
Reasons for Procedure
General anesthesia is used for a surgery or a procedure that would be uncomfortable if you were awake. The medicine will help to:
Relax the muscles
Stop certain reflexes
Prevent awareness of what is happening
Many steps are taken to prevent problems. Possible risks include:
Allergic reaction to anesthetic used
Nerve damage or skin breakdown from positioning on the operating table
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.
Description of the Procedure
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:
First phase—Medicine will be given through an IV or as gas through a mask. It will lead to loss of consciousness. A breathing tube will be placed down your windpipe. It will support your airway during surgery. A machine may also help you breathe.
Middle phase—Medicine will be given in this phase based on your response. Adjustments will be made to keep you asleep and keep breathing and heart rate where it should be.
Recovery phase—The anesthesia will be slowly reversed. New medicine will allow you to wake up. The breathing tube will be removed when you start to wake.
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
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