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Anaesthesia means "loss of sensation". Medications that cause anaesthesia are called anaesthetics.
Anaesthetics are used during tests and surgical operations to numb sensation in certain areas of the body or induce sleep.
This prevents pain and discomfort, and enables a wide range of medical procedures to be carried out.
Local anaesthetics and general anaesthetics are two commonly used types of anaesthetics.
A local anaesthetic is often used during minor procedures where a small area of the body is numbed and you remain fully conscious. A general anaesthetic is often used for more serious operations where you're totally unconscious and unaware of the procedure.
Anaesthetics work by stopping the nerve signals that keep you awake and aware from reaching your brain.
During this state of induced sleep, procedures can be carried out without you feeling anything.
After the anaesthetic has worn off, the nerve signals will be able to reach your brain, and consciousness and feeling will return.
As well as local and general anaesthetic, there are a number of other types of anaesthesia.
Unlike general anaesthetic, these don't make you unconscious; they stop you feeling pain in a particular area of your body.
The different types of anaesthetic are described below.
Different types of anaesthesia can be used in combination. For example, a regional anaesthetic can be used with a general anaesthetic to relieve pain after an operation.
A sedative is also sometimes used with a regional anaesthetic to help you feel relaxed and calm during an operation, as well as pain-free.
An anaesthetic can be given in a number of ways:
Anaesthetists are doctors who have received specialist training in anaesthesia. They'll give you your anaesthetic and be responsible for your safety and wellbeing during your procedure.
Before the procedure, your anaesthetist will discuss a number of things with you, including:
They'll plan your anaesthetic and pain control with you, taking into account any preferences you have for a particular type of anaesthetic. You should ask your anaesthetist to clarify anything you're unsure about.
Your anaesthetist will carefully monitor you throughout your operation and make sure you wake up comfortably afterwards. They may also help with any pain relief you might need after the procedure.
Anaesthetics consist of a number of medications that can cause side effects in some people. Your anaesthetist will tell you about any side effects you may experience after having a specific type of anaesthetic, and measures that will be taken to reduce these.
Some common side effects that can occur after having a general anaesthetic and some regional anaesthetics include:
The side effects of anaesthetic don't usually last very long and, if necessary, some of them can be treated.
Tell the healthcare professionals treating you if you experience any of the above side effects or if you're in pain after your procedure.
In recent years, having anaesthesia has become very safe. Advances in equipment, medication and training mean serious problems are rare.
However, as with any type of surgery or medical procedure, there's a potential risk of complications.
The benefits and risks of surgery and anaesthesia will be carefully weighed up and explained to you before you have any operation.
Very rare possible complications include:
Your risk of developing complications will depend on a number of factors, including:
Before your procedure, your anaesthetist will explain if there are any particular risks of developing possible complications.
In most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. Any concerns you have should be discussed with your anaesthetist before surgery.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.