Anesthesia 101: What Is It Really?

Anesthesia 101: What Is It Really?

When your doctor recommends you to have a surgery to treat a medical condition or injury from an accident, what typically comes to mind that associates with the procedure? Apart from when and where the operation will take place, most patients ask questions about anesthesia. Why is anesthesia an integral part of the surgery, and what is it for?


general anesthesiaWhat is anesthesia?

Anesthesia is a specialized type of medicine used to prevent a patient from feeling pain from a medical treatment like surgery, diagnostic studies, and many more. This medicine works by interrupting signals transpiring between the nerves of an affected part to the brain. The interruption elicits a body reaction that blocks the pain and makes the body (and the brain) forget about what happened during the procedure. Simply put, the administration leads to the loss of sensation and consciousness of a patient during a surgical procedure.


Who can administer anesthesia?

Before, only anesthesiologists are knowledgeable and allowed to handle the dosage and monitoring in a surgical setting. Anesthesiologists are medical doctors that specialized in anesthesia administration. However, many countries now have what we call certified registered nurse anesthetists or CRNAs. CRNAs are nurses with specialized training on how to handle and monitor the drug. Though they may be accountable for administering, monitoring, and controlling the right amount during a medical procedure, it is understandable that an anesthesiologist would supervise their work.


What are the types of anesthesia?

Now that we know much more about this surgical medication, the next question would be, is the drug administration for a minor or major operation or procedure the same? Well, the best way to answer that question is to know the fact that there are mainly 3 types of anesthesia, this means that the amount, location, and target body part of the medication differ depending on the complexity and the estimated length of time the surgery takes. Here is some information that you would want to know regarding the different types of anesthesia.


Local anesthesia

minor surgery anesthesiaThis is the basic type of anesthesia that targets only a specific part of the body. For instance, if your surgeon recommends performing surgery to your hand, the type administered to numb your hand during the procedure is local anesthesia. In this instance, your surgeon may be the one (not the anesthesiologist) who administers the numbing medication through injection on the target site. Some patients may complain of pain or discomfort during the shot, but because the medicine given numbs the area, the pain quickly disappears, and all sensation on that specific part goes with it.

Local anesthesia can also be administered topically. There are now spray or cream preparations of this type that is used for simpler and more superficial procedures. Examples of scenarios that entail the use of the topical numbing drug include cosmetic wart removal, skin biopsy of a mole, insertion of a scope on the nose or throat, etc.


Is sedation a type of local anesthesia?

Actually, no. The confusion comes from the fact that more often than not, local anesthesia and sedation are administered together. But the main focus and goal of each procedure are different. If local anesthesia aims to numb a specific area of the body to prevent pain, sedation relaxes a stressed or panicking client by inducing drowsiness. Sedatives calm the patient during the procedure, some may feel the need to snooze, but the medication would not put them in deep sleep. This type of anti-stress medication can be administered orally, intravenously, or rectally (via a suppository) for babies and children.


Regional anesthesia

Like local anesthesia, regional anesthesia blocks the pain receptions and signals of a specific part of the body, but its scope is far larger than the local one. Regional anesthesia, as the name implies, targets a region of the body, particularly the lower part of the body. Surgery procedures like cesarean delivery, surgical treatment involving the legs, prostate, abdomen, etc.


Types of regional anesthesia

anesthesia for cesarean deliverySpinal anesthesia. This type of regional anesthesia is administered in the spinal column to quickly incorporate with the spinal fluid.

Epidural anesthesia. This type is also administered in the spinal column but has a specific area where it can be administered. Anesthesia is given using a specialized catheter that is attached to the epidural space to let the anesthesiologist administer small amounts of the numbing medication throughout the surgery. The need and the length of the procedure dictate how the doctor titrates the medication.

Sedation may still be administered intravenously during this type of anesthesia because the patient is still awake and conscious. This is specifically applicable for anxious and panicky patients to calm them down.


General anesthesia

As mentioned earlier, patients administered with local and regional anesthesia are still conscious. With general anesthesia, the effect of this medication renders the patient completely unconscious throughout the operation. General anesthesia is given intravenously or inhaled through a breathing mask, and sometimes both methods are applicable. Because the effect makes the patient unresponsive, his vital signs should be closely monitored, and he may need assistance with his respiration. Heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels are constantly recorded. The amount of anesthesia received is carefully controlled and adjusted for the duration of the procedure. Once the surgery is finished, the anesthesiologist reverses the medication to wake the patient up.


Anesthesia risks and complications

We often say that all medical procedures, whether invasive or non-invasive, may always pose a complication or risk. Anesthesia administration is not an exception. It is up to your overall health, pain tolerance, and the expertise of the anesthesiologist that we limit the complications that may arise during a procedure.

Contrary to its effect, getting anesthesia may cause pain and discomfort post-procedure. Other unwanted effects may depend on what type of anesthesia was given. For instance, common complaints about regional anesthesia include feeling weak, nauseous, dizzy, and sensitive as after-effects. They may also complain of having headaches, backaches (insertion site), or stiff neck. General anesthesia, on the other hand, is known to have the most number of complaints and complications since the medication involves the loss of sensation of the whole body plus your consciousness. Sore throat (from the tubes used to regulate breathing during surgery), nausea, dizziness, headache, vision problems, and more serious complications that can lead to stroke, seizures, brain damage, heart problems, and even death.


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