Common Questions for Patients Preparing for Anesthesia




Q: How much anesthesia is administered every year in the U.S.?

A: It is estimated that nearly 40 million anesthetics are administered each year in the United States. Anesthesiologists provide or participate in more than 90% of these anesthetics.


Q: What about eating or drinking before my anesthesia?

A: As a general rule, you should not eat or drink anything after midnight before your surgery. Under some circumstances, you may be given permission by your anesthesiologist to drink clear liquids up to a few hours before your anesthesia.


Q: Should I take my usual medicines?

A: Some medications should be taken and others should not. It is important to discuss this with your anesthesiologist. Do not interrupt medications unless your anesthesiologist or surgeon recommends it.


Q: Could herbal medicines, vitamins and other dietary supplements affect my anesthesia if I need surgery?

A: Anesthesiologists are conducting research to determine exactly how certain herbs and dietary supplements interact with certain anesthetics. They are finding that certain herbal medicines may prolong the effects of anesthesia. Others may increase the risks of bleeding or raise blood pressure. Some effects may be subtle and less critical, but for anesthesiologists, anticipating a possible reaction is better than reacting to an unexpected condition. So it is very important to tell your doctor about everything you take before surgery. For more information on anesthesia and herbal supplements, click here.


Q: I want an epidural when I have my baby. How does that work?

A: An epidural block is given in the lower back and is designed to relieve labor pain. You will either be sitting up or lying on your side when you receive your epidural. The block is administered below the level of the spinal cord. The anesthesiologist will use a local anesthetic to numb an area of your lower back. A special needle is placed in the epidural space just outside the spinal sac. For more information on epidurals, click here.

During childbirth, the anesthesiologist manages the care of two patients, providing effective pain relief for the mother while maintaining a high degree of safety for her unborn infant. In the event of an emergency cesarean section, the anesthesiologist provides surgical anesthesia while managing the life functions of both the mother and the baby. For more information on anesthesia in labor and delivery, click here.


Q: Should I stop smoking before my surgery?

A: Yes – it is important to quit smoking now. Your surgery represents a golden opportunity to do so. There is evidence that smokers who quit at or before surgery experience fewer symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and are more likely to succeed in their attempt to stop smoking long term. Even if it’s only a week or two before surgery, there is still a benefit to quitting.

For more information to help you stop smoking, click here.


Q: Are long surgeries more dangerous?

A: There is no evidence that the duration of general anesthesia by itself increases the risks of anesthesia complications. Studies of anesthesia-related risks have shown correlation with other factors, such as:

1. Your general medical condition, especially problems like diabetes, heart or lung disease, malnutrition or obesity.

2. Your functional status, that is, your ability to tolerate at least moderate levels of physical activity.

Obviously, anesthetic outcomes are also related to the skill and experience of the anesthesiologist who is taking care of you. The anesthetic needs to be tailored to your medical condition, the surgery itself, and whenever possible, to your individual preferences.


Q: Is pain relief in my spine safe?

A: You can rest assured that spinal anesthesia is a safe choice for many surgeries. When offered this type of anesthesia, many patients are concerned about serious side effects, such as paralysis, and also about troubling but less dangerous side effects, such as headaches. There is a common, although false, perception that these complications occur often. In fact, spinal anesthesia has a long track record of safety, with a very low rate of serious complications.


Q: Should my throat be sore after surgery?

A: A sore throat after general anesthesia is not uncommon, occurring about 20-30% of the time. In most cases it is mild, and gets better without treatment over a couple of days. It is unusual for the soreness to last longer than a few weeks. If this does occur, please contact your physician.

Helpful Links

What is Anesthesiology

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


Anesthesia Topics Quick Links

Choose a topic:

Featured Video:

Smoking and Surgery
Learn why stopping smoking before surgery can have an impact on your outcome.

Play Video

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.