What is anesthesiology?

Anesthesiology is the practice of medicine dedicated to the relief of pain and comprehensive care of the patient before, during and after surgery. The advancements in medicine have made the practice of anesthesia safe. The chance that a healthy person dies from anesthesia is 1 in 200,000. There are different types of anesthesia. The type of anesthesia you get depends on the type of surgery you are having and your medical history.

A physician called an anesthesiologist is responsible for the patient’s wellbeing before, during and after surgery. How much anesthesia you get depends on your weight, age, what type of surgery you are getting, and your overall health. What an anesthesiologist will do:

  • Make sure it is safe to proceed with the anesthetic
  • Monitor breathing
  • Monitor blood pressure
  • Monitor body temperature
  • Keep you comfortable during surgery
  • Control pain
  • Help with any problems during surgery

The anesthesiologist may be with a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), resident physician or a student nurse anesthetist to help. Any of these providers will be supervised by the anesthesiologist who retains the overall responsibility for the patient’s safety.

The process of anesthesia

Before the operation, your anesthesiologist will tell you the type of anesthesia you will get and ask you questions. Answer all questions the doctor asks honestly. Follow all directions the doctor gives you to prepare for the surgery. You will be asked to not eat or drink prior to the operation and what to do if you are taking certain medications or supplements. Share with your doctor any questions or concerns that you have about anesthesia. When you know about the process and remain calm, it will help take away anxiety during and after the operation.

You will receive the anesthesia before surgery starts. It will be a local, regional or general anesthesia. During the operation, you should feel no pain and limited sensation. You can possibly be awake or completely sedated, depending on the type of surgery. Doctors, nurses and the anesthesia team will monitor you closely.

You will go to a recovery room or intensive care unit, depending on the type of operation and anesthetic you had. The doctor may prescribe other pain medications to make sure you are as comfortable as possible after the surgery. Tell your doctor if any new symptoms show up after the surgery.

Local anesthesia

With local anesthesia, only a small part of the body is numb and the numbness lasts for only a short time. Local anesthesia can come in the form of a shot, spray or ointment. You are still awake or moderately sedated. Many times local anesthesia is used for outpatient procedures. Examples of this type of surgery could be on your foot or hand. The patient can go home the same day after surgery. Dentist and doctor’s offices usually use this method. After local anesthesia there can still be some numbness felt in the area.

Regional anesthesia

This type of anesthesia stops you from feeling pain in a certain part of your body. This can be in your lower body, an arm or a leg. Anesthesia will be injected into the nerves around the area that is being operated on. You are awake or sedated. You will be awake if it is a risk for you to be sleep during surgery. Examples of regional anesthesia are:

  • Spinal blocks which numb the lower body
  • Epidural blocks, which are used for surgery and childbirth

General anesthesia

You are asleep under general anesthesia. The overall purpose of this is so that you do not feel any pain or sensation and are completely unaware of the operation. General anesthesia will be given through an IV line, mask or both. This mask gives off gas or vapors. When you receive this type anesthesia you are not aware of anything until the operation is over. Your vital signs will be carefully monitored before, during and after the surgery.

Getting the right amount of oxygen during your surgery is important. You will receive oxygen and anesthesia through a tube in your wind pipe. Reasons why someone might need a breathing tube include:

  • Eating/drinking before surgery
  • Being overweight
  • Prior medical acid reflux issues
  • Vomiting
  • Type of surgery (abdominal, neurosurgery, vascular, etc.)

You will wake up once the operation is over. Removal of any tubes happens when you can breathe on your own. The nurses and doctors watch you in the recovery room or intensive care until you are totally awake.

Risks of anesthesia

Thanks to technology, anesthesia is very safe. Even though it is safe, there can still be some risks and complications. These risks depend on the type of operation and what type of condition you are in. Ask your doctor about specific risks that are associated with your operation. There are some steps you can take to reduce the risks. Things to tell your anesthesiologist:

  • Your health conditions (including high blood pressure, heart, lung or liver disease or diabetes)
  • Whether or not you have had a previous blood transfusion
  • Whether you have had depression or other psychiatric disorders
  • About recent surgeries or hospital visits
  • Your previous experiences with anesthesia and your reaction
  • Your dental history (loose teeth, crowns or bridges)
  • About all medications you are on (prescription, over the counter or herbal)
  • About drug and food allergies
  • Whether you smoke, drink alcohol or use any recreational drugs
  • About family members’ histories with anesthesia


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 8/27/2013…#15286