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Anaesthesia means a loss of feeling or pain. The term anaesthesia is also used to describe medication to prevent feelings of pain during a surgery or other procedure.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?
A person who is having a painful procedure may need anaesthesia. The procedure may range from getting stitches for a cut to open heart surgery.

How is the procedure performed?
There are many different types of anaesthesia and ways to give the medications. Common examples include: There are other, less common, forms of anaesthesia that can be used in certain situations.

general anaesthesia is a type of anaesthesia which puts the person to sleep. The person is made unconscious with medications that are breathed into the lungs or injected into the veins. In general anaesthesia, a person is also temporarily paralysed with medications. A person has no memory of the surgery when he or she wakes up. General anaesthesia is used for most major operations.

epidural anaesthesia and spinal anaesthesia both involve injecting medications into the spinal column. The medications act directly on the spinal cord and nerves to stop the feeling of pain. A person is generally awake during the procedure. These types of anaesthesia are commonly used during childbirth and with surgeries below the belly button.

regional anaesthesia, local anaesthesia, or topical anaesthesia involve injecting medication into the skin or rubbing it onto the skin near the site of the procedure. This causes numbing. Regional anaesthesia involves numbing a large area, such as the entire hand or leg. Local or topical anaesthesias are used before small procedures, such as putting stitches into a cut.

What happens right after the procedure?
General, epidural, and spinal anaesthesias require at least an hour or two of monitoring. This is usually done in a recovery room. An individual can go home if he or she does not need to recover in the hospital. Someone else must drive the person home because the medications used can impair co-ordination and reflexes for several hours.

Local, regional, and topical anaesthesias often require only brief monitoring after the procedure. The person can often go home the same day. If sedatives or other medications were given, someone else must drive the person home. Always check with your doctor.

What happens later at home?
General anaesthesia and a major operation can cause stress on the body. No matter what anaesthesia is used, most people feel that they are back to normal by the next day. For some people, it may take a few days.

What are the potential complications after the procedure?
The most feared complication of anaesthesia is death. This occurs in roughly 1 out of every 10,000 people who have general, epidural, or spinal anaesthesias. It is not usually possible to predict who will have this severe reaction.

Other problems can occur, including: Other problems depend on the type of anaesthesia used. For example:
  • General anaesthesia may result in mouth or throat damage. This is because a tube is placed in the throat and connected to a ventilator. Other mild side effects may be nausea and vomiting.
  • Epidural or spinal anaesthesia may cause headaches, bleeding, or infection at the site where the needle is inserted.
Local and topical anaesthesias are less likely to cause a problem. Severe allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock, and seizures have occurred with some anaesthesias.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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