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Learning About General Anesthesia

What is general anesthesia?

Anesthesia helps control pain during surgery or other procedures. General anesthesia affects your whole body. It uses medicines that make you unconscious. It also causes you to forget things for a short time. And it relaxes your muscles. When it's used, you should be completely unaware. You won't feel pain during the surgery or procedure.

General anesthesia reduces many of your body's normal functions, such as those that control breathing. So the anesthesia specialist will watch you closely during the surgery.

How is it given?

Anesthesia medicine may be given through a needle in a vein (intravenous, or IV). Or it may be inhaled. Sometimes it's given both ways. During the procedure, an anesthesia specialist closely watches your vital signs and keeps them stable by adjusting the medicines as needed. Vital signs include your heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure.

What are the risks?

Major side effects are not common. But all types of anesthesia have some risk. Your risk depends on your overall health. It also depends on the type of anesthesia you have and how you respond to it.

Serious but rare risks include breathing problems, heart problems, and stroke. Malignant hyperthermia is a serious reaction that can occur very rarely with some anesthesia medicines. It can be deadly. The chance of having this reaction may be passed down in families.

Some health conditions increase the risk of problems. Your anesthesia specialist will ask you about any health problems you have. You will discuss things that can increase your risk. These include sleep apnea, obesity, and heart and lung disease.

What can you do to prepare?

You will get a list of instructions to help you prepare. Your anesthesia specialist will let you know what to expect when you get to the hospital, during the surgery, and after. You'll be told when to stop eating and drinking.

If you take medicine, you'll be told what you can and can't take before surgery.

Your anesthesia specialist will talk with you about the risks and benefits of anesthesia. If you have questions, be sure to ask.

Many people are nervous before they have anesthesia and surgery. Ask your doctor about ways to relax ahead of time. Relaxation exercises may be one option.

What can you expect after having general anesthesia?

Right after the surgery, you will be in the recovery room. Nurses will make sure you are comfortable. As the anesthesia wears off, you may feel some pain and discomfort from your surgery.

Tell someone on your care team if you have pain. Pain medicine works better if you take it before the pain gets bad.

When you first wake up from the anesthesia, you may be confused. It may be hard to think clearly. This is normal. It takes time for the effects of the medicine to completely wear off.

Wait 24 hours before you drive or operate heavy machinery, make important decisions, go to work or school, or sign legal documents.

Other common side effects of anesthesia include:

  • Nausea and vomiting. This usually won't last long. You can take medicine to treat it.
  • A slight drop in body temperature. You may feel cold and shiver when you first wake up.
  • A sore throat.
  • Muscle aches or weakness.
  • Feeling tired.

For minor surgeries, you may go home the same day. For other surgeries, you may stay in the hospital. Your anesthesia specialist will check on you as you recover from the anesthesia. They can answer any questions you may have.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.