Anesthesiology 101: What Do I Need to Know?




What You Should Know About Anesthesia

As physicians, anesthesiologists use their specialized medical training to conduct a pre-operative assessment of a patient’s health to develop a tailored anesthesia plan to prepare for any issues that may arise in surgery. Administering, monitoring and reversing anesthesia are complicated medical procedures that require a physician’s knowledge and ability to make split-second lifesaving decisions.

Beyond four years of medical school, anesthesiologists have an additional four to five years of advanced training as an anesthesiology resident, which allows them to work with patients to help prevent complications during surgery and make split-second decisions to save a patient’s life if complications do occur.

A recent survey of Michigan residents found that while 74 percent understand the service anesthesiologists provide, only 24 percent understand how vital those services are in protecting a patient’s health and safety during a surgical procedure. That is why a new campaign is under way to make sure patients and their caregivers are informed about the risks associated with anesthesia before they undergo any medical procedure requiring anesthesia.


From Beginning to End – What Anesthesiologists Do

Universally recognized by the Institute of Medicine as the leaders in patient safety, anesthesiologists work with surgeons and other physicians before surgery to medically evaluate patients. They identify and anticipate potential complications, and create individualized medical plans for each of their patients. Anesthesiologists are extensively trained in the use of powerful medicines, and they play an essential role in the operating room – providing pain control and monitoring patients’ vital life functions (including heart rate and rhythm, breathing, blood pressure, body temperature and body fluid balance). After surgery, anesthesiologists supervise patient care and assist in determining when to discharge patients from the recovery unit.

As part of their role, anesthesiologists also help relieve pain for seriously ill patients in the intensive care unit, as well as for chronic pain sufferers.


Types of Anesthesia

Each year in the U.S., approximately 40 million anesthetic medications are administered for the three primary types of anesthesia – local, regional and general.

  • Local anesthesia: Injected into the tissue to numb the specific part of your body requiring minor surgery (think hands and feet).
  • Regional anesthesia: Injected near a cluster of nerves to numb the part of your body requiring surgery. Patients are sometimes awake or given a sedative to help them relax. Two of the most frequently used types of regional anesthesia are spinal and epidural anesthesia.
  • General anesthesia: Often inhaled through a breathing mask or tube, or introduced through a vein. Patients are unconscious during the surgical procedure and regain consciousness in the recovery room.

Anesthesia Risks

Anesthesiologists are trained to identify potential risks and implement the appropriate procedures to ensure patient safety. However, the risk of developing complications is very real for many Michigan patients – especially those with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea and heart disease. In addition to having some of the highest rates of illness and disease in the nation, Michigan has a growing population of senior citizens age 65 and older. More than half of these seniors will undergo at least one surgical procedure in their lifetime, and nearly all of them face a greater risk of medical complications simply because of their age.

Medical Innovations

Anesthesiologists are developing new ways to better manage risks – and costs – for surgical patients. A new concept called “surgical home” advocates for the singular management of patients from the moment they walk in the hospital door. Anesthesiologists believe that better integrating each phase of care will not only improve communication and reduce the risk of complications, but will also provide a more cost-effective way to manage patient care.

Helpful Links

What is Anesthesiology

Total care of the surgical patient before, during and after surgery.


Anesthesia Topics Quick Links

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In Case of Emergency

Download, print, fill out, and keep this checklist. It just may save your life.


Come Prepared

Ask your anesthesiologist questions about what to expect before, during, and after your procedure.


The ASA does not employ physician anesthesiologists on staff and cannot respond to patient inquiries regarding specific medical conditions or anesthesia administration. Please direct any questions related to anesthetics, procedures or treatment outcomes to the patient’s anesthesiologist or general physician.