What is Anaesthesia?


Anaesthesia means "loss of sensation". Medications that cause anaesthesia are called anaesthetics. 


How do anaesthetics work?


Anaesthetics work by blocking the signals that pass along your nerves to your brain.

If you cut your finger, the pain signal travels from your finger to your brain through your nerves. When the signal reaches your brain, you realise that your finger hurts.

Anaesthetics stop the nerve signals reaching your brain, allowing procedures to be carried out without you feeling anything. When the anaesthetic wears off, the signals will work again and your sensation will come back.


My role as an anaesthetist:

Based on an assessment prior to your procedure, I will discuss with you what anaesthetic methods are appropriate, along with the risks or side effects. If you have any queries about your anaesthetic is important that you raise them.

My aim is to keep you safe throughout surgery and to optimise your post-operative pain relief.



Types of anaesthesia

There are several different types of anaesthesia. The different types of anaesthetic are described below.

  • General anaesthetic – used for operations when you need to be unconscious. The anaesthetic stops your brain recognising any signals from your nerves, so you cannot feel anything. 
  • Sedation – for painful or unpleasant but usually minor procedures. Sedation makes you feel sleepy and relaxes you both physically and mentally. Sedation may also make you amnesic.  
  • Local anaesthetic – used for minor procedures and tests to numb the nerves in the area where the procedure is taking place. You will be conscious during the procedure. 
  • Regional anaesthetic – used for larger or deeper operations where the nerves are harder to reach. Local anaesthetic is injected near the nerves in order to numb a larger area, but you remain conscious.
  • Epidural anaesthetic – a regional anaesthetic usually used to numb the lower half of your body.
  • Spinal anaesthesia – a regional anaesthetic that is used to numb your spinal nerves so that surgery can be carried out in this area.  


Different types of anaesthetic can be used at the same time. For example:

  • A regional anaesthetic can be used with a general anaesthetic.
  • Sedation may be used with a regional anaesthetic to make you relaxed during the operation as well as free from pain. 



Side effects

Anaesthetics consist of a number of medications, which can cause side effects in some people. Some of the more common side effects include:

  • feeling sick or vomiting – about one in three people may feel sick after an operation
  • dizziness and feeling faint
  • feeling cold and shivering for up to half an hour – this is possible after a general anaesthetic or during/after a regional anaesthetic
  • headache
  • itchiness
  • bruising and soreness

The side effects do not usually last for very long and if necessary they can be treated with further medication. Inform the healthcare professionals who are treating if you experience any of the above side effects, or if you are in any pain after your procedure.


Complications and risks

There are a number of more serious complications associated with anaesthesia but fortunately they are very rare (occurring in less than one case for every 10,000 anaesthetics given). Complications include:

  • permanent nerve damage (causing paralysis or numbness)
  • a serious allergic reaction to the anaesthetic (anaphylaxis)
  • death, which is extremely rare (there is approximately one death for every 100,000 general anaesthetics given)

Whether you are at any risk of these complications will depend on: 

  • your medical history – whether you have any other illness
  • personal factors – whether you smoke or are overweight, for example 
  • the type of surgery needed – whether it is planned or carried out in an emergency, or whether it is a major or minor procedure
  • the type of anaesthetic needed. General anaesthetics can have more side effects and complications than local anaesthetics.

It is important that we discuss any concerns you have.


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