What you need to know about anesthesia

Patient undergoing anesthesia

Count backward from 100 to 0. “100, 99, 98 …” Before you know it, a calm sleep washes over you. For anyone who has ever watched a medical drama on TV this is a familiar scenario.

Thanks to anesthesia, a patient undergoing surgery is mysteriously transported to another dimension, allowing doctors to painlessly perform necessary procedures. While the art and science of anesthesia is used across the globe on a daily basis, apart from dramatic scenes on TV, many patients still know little about the practice.

The past 20 years have seen major advances in the use and application of anesthesia. “It’s become far safer,” said Bill Haney, M.D., anesthesiology. Advances in monitoring capabilities, newer anesthetic agents, better education and advanced training techniques have all led to routine and worry-free anesthetic application for millions of patients, according to Dr. Haney. Still, many patients don’t understand the four general categories of anesthesia:

  • Local anesthesia: only a small part of the body is numbed. The patient is awake but experiences no pain in the numbed area.
  • General anesthesia: the patient is unconscious and experiences no pain.
  • Regional anesthesia: a whole region of the body is numbed, such as using an epidural during childbirth.
  • Sedation: the same drugs used in a general anesthetic procedure are used in lower doses to produce what many call a “twilight sleep.”

A small percentage of patients report aggravating complaints when coming out of an anesthetic procedure, including nausea, prolonged dizziness and disorientation. An honest discussion with your anesthesiologist about your past experiences with anesthesia and current use of medications can help prevent negative postoperative effects. When it comes to preventing adverse reactions to anesthesia, awareness is key, Dr. Haney said. The more the anesthesiologist knows about the patient the better he or she can serve the patient. “That is why it’s important to be completely honest about your family’s medical history and current use of all medications, even over-the-counter medications, including all herbal remedies,” he said.

—Michael Fitzer