Anesthesia is used in surgery to minimize pain, discomfort, and shock for surgical patients. There are several types of anesthesia which can be used depending on the needs of the surgery: general, local, regional, and conscious sedation. With anesthesia, the patient feels no pain during a procedure, and often does not remember the proceedings. Anesthesia increases the patient’s comfort, which may in turn reduce the recovery time. By acting as a relaxant for the patient, anesthesia makes it also easier for the medical staff to perform procedures.
General anesthesia is a complete loss of consciousness caused by a combination of injected and inhaled drugs. This type of anesthesia is often used for highly invasive surgeries or if total relaxation of the patient is required. General anesthesia carries the most surgical risk because of the state of complete unconsciousness. As a result, the anesthesiologist will manage the patient carefully throughout surgery.
The exact mechanism through which general anesthesia works is unclear. It is believed that anesthesia acts on the brain to produce unconsciousness, and on the nerves and spinal cord to monitor administration of additional inhaled drugs throughout the surgery.
Local anesthesia involves injected drugs which numb a small area. Many patients have experienced local anesthesia in the form of Novocain, which is used in dental applications. Any small, localized procedure, such as setting stitches, is suitable for local anesthesia. Regional anesthesia is similar to local anesthesia, except it covers a wider area of the body.
Regional anesthesia works by blocking nerve impulses. Regional anesthesia allows doctors to block sensation (pain) to the entire lower body or single limbs.
Conscious sedation is an anesthesia practice where the patient remains conscious but is fully relaxed, does not feel pain, and will not usually remember the anesthesia. In cases where a patient is not stable enough for general anesthesia, conscious sedation may be used.