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Anaesthesia: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Frequently asked questions about anesthesia

Most operations need anesthesia. This section gives answers to some of the common questions about anesthesia.

Why do I need an anesthetic?

  • You won't feel pain
  • You will be asleep with a general anesthetic; you will be sedated if you have a regional anesthetic
  • You won't move. This makes it easier for the surgeon to operate
  • You won't remember the operation (you may remember some things if you do not have a general anesthetic)

What is an Anesthesiologist?

  • This is a Doctor who has specialty training to give safe and effective anesthesia.
  • The anesthetic is planned just for you, your health and your planned operation.
  • The Doctor will stay with you during the operation to make sure that the anesthetic is going as planned, and that you are not having pain. Your heart, lungs, and other vital organs will be watched very closely.

What are the risks?

Anesthesia is very safe. Major complications are rare. The type of complications depends on whether you are having local, regional, or general anesthesia. The risk of death from general anesthesia is about 1 in 10,000 anesthetics.

Your anesthesiologist will discuss this further if you have more questions.

How can I lower the risks that apply to me?

There are certain things that you can do to significantly decrease your risk of developing serious complications from anesthesia and surgery:
  • If you smoke, stop smoking. Smoking increases the risk of pneumonia and other breathing complications after surgery. The longer you stop smoking, the better
  • If you are obese, lose weight. The risk of complications is significantly greater with obesity
  • Take your medications as instructed

Why can't I eat before surgery?

Fasting before surgery helps to make sure your stomach is empty. This decreases the chance of vomiting. If you vomit, it can get into your lungs, causing serious illness or death. Your surgery may be cancelled or delayed if you break your fast for anything other than prescribed medications.

What are the different types of anesthesia?

  • General Anesthesia

    In general anesthesia, drugs are given that put you to sleep, give you pain relief, and make your muscles relax. A breathing tube may be put in to your windpipe to help you breathe while you are asleep.

    Major complications are rare. Some people have mild side effects after a general anesthetic. These include sore throat, muscle aches, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. Sometimes it is hard to remember what happened just before and just after surgery. These side effects should be gone within 48 hours.

  • Regional Anesthesia (Nerve Blocks)

    Regional anesthesia involves injecting local anesthetic (freezing or numbing) near a nerve, a group of nerves, or the spinal cord. Your anesthesiologist will decide where to inject local anesthetic to best anesthetize (freeze or numb) the area where you are having surgery. It can take up to 30 minutes after the local anesthetic is injected for it to take full effect. The anesthesia can last up to several hours, and provide pain relief for some time after the operation is over. The local anesthetic is often administered in a different room than the operating room.

    Frequently you are also given sedation after the block is injected, so that you are relaxed or even asleep, and have no memory of the surgery itself.  Sometimes you may also require a general anesthetic in addition to the block to provide enough anesthesia for the operation itself. For some of the blocks, your anesthesiologist may also recommend that a small plastic tube (catheter) be inserted at the site of injection when the block is administered. This catheter is used after the surgery is over to keep injecting local anesthetic for pain relief, and can be left in place for days if necessary.

    Complications from regional anesthesia can happen if a nerve or the spinal cord is injured during the injection. This can result in temporary or permanent numbness, weakness or paralysis in the affected area. Permanent injury is very rare. There can also be allergic reactions to the drugs that are used.

  • Local Anesthesia

    Freezing or numbing to the surgical site.

What type of anesthetic will I need?

This decision is made between your anesthetist, your surgeon, and you. Your health or the nature of your surgery may decide the kind of anesthetic you will have.