What is anaesthesia?

The term anaesthesia refers to various medicines usually given before surgical or other procedures. These medicines act by making sure that:

  • The patient feels no pain during the procedure
  • There is no unnecessary movement during the procedure if needed
  • The patient won't remember the procedure and any feeling associated with it

What are the different types of anaesthesia?

Anaesthesia can be of three types:

Local anaesthesia

Medicines used as a local anaesthesia make the area they’re applied on numb so that the person doesn’t have any sensation or pain during the procedure. Local anaesthesia can be applied as a cream or gel, sprayed on the skin or injected into the skin. Patient can be awake during and after having the local anaesthesia.

Local anaesthesia is given prior to minor procedures such as stitching, skin or breast biopsy (taking small samples of tissue using needles), etc.

Regional anaesthesia

Regional anaesthesia numbs a larger part of the body like a leg, arm, lower half of the body, etc. Spinal block is a type of regional anaesthesia to numb the lower half of the body or when doing a procedure inside the abdomen. During a spinal block, the doctor injects the anaesthesia medicine into the fluid around the spinal cord using a needle.

Another type of regional anaesthesia is called “epidural”. A doctor administers epidural anaesthesia using a small tube called a catheter into the lower back near the nerves around spinal cord. This type of anaesthesia is used in childbirth or to control pain after surgery.

Patients may remain awake after receiving a regional anaesthesia or they may be given intravenous sedatives along with it (medicines to make them relax and feel sleepy).

General anaesthesia

General anaesthesia is mostly given through the intravenous route or via a mask placed over the mouth and nose when in the form of gas. It makes the patient unconscious so they don’t see, feel, hear or remember anything during the surgery. The patient is intubated (a breathing tube is inserted from throat to the trachea) and is attached to a machine that controls and monitors breathing. An anaesthetist is a specialist who gives and monitors the patient during general anaesthesia.

What does an anaesthetist do?

An anaesthetist will evaluate you for anaesthesia fitness before the anaesthesia begins. You may be asked questions including:

  • Any health problems?
  • Any dental issues like false or loose teeth?
  • Any medicines you’re taking including supplements and over the counter medicines
  • Do you smoke or drink alcohol or use any other drugs?
  • Any food or medicine allergies?
  • Did you or any of your relative have a reaction to anaesthesia medicines before?

Type of anaesthesia administered to you during the procedure depends on:

  • Your answers to the questions asked above
  • The type of procedure or surgery you’re undergoing

Sometimes you might have a choice regarding which type of anaesthesia you prefer, while in some cases, for your safety you may not.

The anaesthetist will tell you the type of anaesthesia you’ll be given and answer any queries you have. The anaesthetic team will check your vitals including pulse, blood pressure and breathing during the procedure to make sure everything is fine and you’re pain free. If you’re having general anaesthesia, they will make sure that you remain unconscious.

Can I wake up during general anaesthesia?

The anaesthetist constantly checks your vitals and reactions during the surgery and keeps adjusting the anaesthesia medicines so that you remain unconscious during the procedure. Therefore it’s very rare (0.000067%) that someone might wake up during the procedure.

Are there any side effects from anaesthesia?

Different types of anaesthesia have their own side effects. Spinal or epidural anaesthesia may leave the affected part of body numb for a short period after the procedure along with trouble in urination. Rarely, bleeding or infection may occur at the injection site from where the needle entered the body. These issues usually settle by themselves within a few days, however if you have abnormal symptoms or symptoms lasting longer than a couple of days, discuss these with your doctor in detail. Discuss anything that comes to your mind even if you consider it normal or confusing.

After general anaesthesia, you may feel confused or groggy along with several side effects such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting (easily managed by medicines)
  • Sort throat (because of breathing tube)

Some patients having certain medical issues or specific type of surgeries may have difficulty in breathing after the procedure, sometimes because of general anaesthesia. These patients remain intubated and on a ventilator (artificial breathing) until their breathing gets natural. Patient remains sedated during this time. Your anaesthetist will discuss and explain this to you if you’re at risk of having this condition.

What else should I know about anaesthesia?

Ask whatever comes to your mind to your surgeon and anaesthetist regarding the risks and benefits of the procedure and which type of anaesthesia may be best for you. Your anaesthetist will also make sure to monitor you during the recovery phase after the surgical procedure, as patient safety is the primary concern.

You are in good hands....