Anesthesia uses drugs called anesthetics to keep you from feeling pain during medical procedures. Local and regional anesthesia numbs a specific area of your body. General anesthesia makes you temporarily unconscious (fall asleep) so you can have more invasive surgeries.
Anesthesia refers to the use of medications (called anesthetics) to keep you from feeling pain during procedures or surgery. Anesthetics temporarily block sensory signals from your nerves at the site of the procedure to the centers in your brain.
Different types of anesthesia work in different ways. Some anesthetic medications numb certain parts of your body. Other anesthetics numb your brain so you can sleep through more invasive surgical procedures.
The anesthesia your healthcare provider uses depends on the type and scope of the procedure. Options include:
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If you’re having a relatively simple procedure that requires numbing a small area, the provider performing your procedure will often administer the local anesthetic. For more complex and invasive procedures, a physician anesthesiologist will prescribe the anesthetic medications and manage your pain before, during and after surgery. In addition to your anesthesiologist, your anesthesia team may include:
Make sure your healthcare provider has a current list of the medications, vitamins and other supplements you take. Certain drugs can interact with anesthesia or increase the risk of complications. You should also:
During anesthesia, a provider:
For procedures using local anesthesia, you can return to work or most activities after treatment unless your healthcare provider says otherwise. You’ll need more time to recover if you’ve received regional or general anesthesia or sedation. You should:
Most anesthesia side effects are temporary and go away within 24 hours, often sooner. Depending on the anesthesia type and how providers administer it, you may experience:
Every year, millions of Americans safely receive anesthesia while undergoing medical procedures. However, anesthesia does carry some degree of risk. Potential complications include:
Certain factors make it riskier to receive anesthesia, including:
Anesthetic drugs can stay in your system for up to 24 hours. If you’ve had sedation or regional or general anesthesia, you shouldn’t return to work or drive until the drugs have left your body. After local anesthesia, you should be able to resume normal activities, as long as your healthcare provider says it’s OK.
It depends on the procedure. Your provider will determine your dosage based on your individual needs and how long the surgery takes.
Not technically, though it does prevent you from feeling pain. When people refer to pain killers, they’re really referring to analgesics, or pain medications. Analgesia is pain relief without loss of sensation or consciousness. Anesthesia, on the other hand, refers to the loss of physical sensation with or without loss of consciousness.
Local anesthesia affects a small area of the body. It’s generally safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding (chestfeeding). Many pregnant people safely receive regional anesthesia like an epidural or spinal block during childbirth. Your healthcare provider may recommend postponing elective procedures that require regional or general anesthesia until after childbirth.
Anesthesia is generally safe for breastfeeding people and their babies. Medications used in all types of anesthesia, including general anesthesia, leave your system quickly. Your healthcare provider might recommend expressing your first breast milk after general anesthesia. Ask your provider if this is something you should consider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Anesthesia is one of the most important and widely used discoveries in healthcare. Because of anesthetics, you can comfortably and safely undergo all types of surgeries, big or small. It’s normal to feel nervous before having anesthesia. If you have specific questions, talk to your healthcare provider. They’re here to help. They can help determine what type of anesthesia is right for you and talk with you about what to expect.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/30/2023.
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