Types of Anesthesia




Are there different kinds of anesthesia?

There are three main types of anesthesia: local, regional and general.

Local anesthesia: The anesthetic drug is usually injected into the tissue to numb just the specific location of your body requiring minor surgery, for example, on the hand or foot.

Regional anesthesia: Your anesthesiologist makes an injection near a cluster of nerves to numb the area of your body that requires surgery. You might be awake, or you may be given something to help you relax, sometimes called a sedative. There are several kinds of regional anesthesia. Two of the most frequently used are spinal and epidural anesthesia, which are produced by injections made with great exactness in the appropriate areas of the back. They are frequently preferred for childbirth and prostate surgery.

General anesthesia: You are unconscious and have no awareness or other sensations. There are a number of general anesthetic drugs. Some are gases or vapors inhaled through a breathing mask or tube and others are medications introduced through a vein. During anesthesia, you are carefully monitored, controlled and treated by your anesthesiologist. A breathing tube may be inserted through your mouth and frequently into the windpipe to maintain proper breathing during this period. The length and level of anesthesia is calculated and constantly adjusted with great precision. At the conclusion of surgery, your anesthesiologist will reverse the process and you will regain awareness in the recovery room.

General Anesthesia

What is general anesthesia?
General anesthesia puts patients in an unconscious state. Patients under general anesthesia typically have no awareness or other sensations.
It is important that an anesthesiologist or other anesthesia provider is present before, during and after the administration of general anesthesia. Often, breathing support is needed, so it is important for patients’ vital signs such as breathing, blood pressure and heart rate to be closely monitored.

When is a breathing tube necessary for surgery?
Your anesthesia professional will speak to you before surgery and decide if you need a breathing tube. The decision is based on your type of surgery and anesthesia, as well as your medical history and physical exam.
Typically, a breathing tube is not needed during local anesthesia, regional anesthesia and sedation. However, if you have general anesthesia, then a breathing tube may be needed. Patients who are more likely to need a breathing tube include those who:

  • ate or drank prior to surgery
  • have medical problems that cause acid reflux
  • are vomiting or are extremely overweight

How can I lower my risk of nausea and vomiting after surgery?
Through the development of better anesthetics and nausea prevention medications, the number of patients who experience postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) has decreased. However, patients who are sensitive to narcotics or are prone to motion-sickness tend to be at an increased risk for PONV. 
Different kinds of nausea prevention medications can be given in combination before and during surgery to reduce PONV. Be sure to let your anesthesiologist know in advance if you are at risk for PONV.

Regional Anesthesia

What is a spinal block?
A spinal block is commonly used to help patients undergoing painful procedures. A spinal involves placing a small needle in the back and into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. A local anesthetic is then injected, temporarily numbing the lower half of the body. 

What is an epidural?
An epidural is commonly used for pain control after surgery and during childbirth. An epidural involves placing a small needle in the back and then positioning a small tube (catheter) near the nerves exiting the spinal cord. Medications are delivered through the catheter, temporarily numbing regions of the body.
Epidurals and spinals are often confused. When a spinal is performed, the anesthesiologist places a small needle in the back and the tip is in the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. For an epidural, the tip of the needle is outside of the sack holding the spinal fluid in the space where the nerves exit the spinal. 

What are the side effects of a spinal block or epidural?

Side effects of a spinal block or epidural may include minor back pain, headache or difficulty urinating. Other less common side effects may include bleeding or infection at the needle site, or very rarely, nerve damage.

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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.