Anesthesia is used in surgery to minimize pain, discomfort, and shock for surgical patients. Anesthesia is a vital part of surgical practice, allowing doctors to operate safely and painlessly on patients. The wide variety of anesthetics available allows anesthesiologists to select the most suitable type of anesthesia and anesthetic drug for the patient. Many people will experience some form of anesthesia during their lifetime, and will appreciate the lack of pain associated with it.
When anesthesia works as expected, the patient feels no pain during a procedure, and often does not remember the proceedings either. Anesthesia increases patient comfort, which can in turn reduce recovery times. With the knowledge that they are not inflicting pain, it also makes it easier for a medical staff to work.
There are several types of anesthesia which can be used depending on the needs of the surgery: general, local, regional, and conscious sedation.
When anesthesia comes to mind, most people think of general anesthesia. General anesthesia is a complete loss of consciousness in the patient accomplished through a combination of injected and inhaled drugs. This type of anesthesia is often used for highly invasive surgeries, or cases when total relaxation of the patient is required. General anesthesia carries the most surgical risk because of the state of complete unconsciousness. As a result, the anesthesiologist will manage the patient carefully throughout surgery.
The exact mechanism through which general anesthesia works is unclear. It is believed that the anesthetics act on the brain to produce unconsciousness, and on the nerves and spinal cord to promote immobility and reduce pain. General anesthesia is maintained through carefully monitored administration of additional inhaled drugs throughout the surgery.
Local anesthesia involves injected drugs which numb a small area. Many patients have experienced a local anesthetic in the form of Novocaine, which is used in dental applications. Local anesthetics are used when the patient would feel pain, but doesn't need to be unconscious. Any small, localized procedure such as setting stitches is suitable for local anesthesia.
Regional anesthesia is similar to local anesthesia, except that it covers a wider area of the body. Regional anesthesia works by blocking nerve impulses, and is often used during labor and delivery in the form of an epidural. Sometimes regional anesthesia is used for long term pain management in individuals who experience chronic lower body pain. Regional anesthesia allows doctors to block sensations to the entire lower body, or single limbs.
Conscious sedation is an anesthesia practice where the patient remains conscious, but is fully relaxed, does not feel pain, and will not usually remember the anesthesia. This type of anesthesia is useful in situations where patients need to cooperate with medical staff, or when a procedure is not serious enough to warrant general anesthesia. In cases where a patient is not stable enough for general anesthesia, conscious sedation may be used.