Types of Anesthesia
Four main types of anesthesia are used during surgery and other procedures: general anesthesia, regional anesthesia, monitored anesthesia care and local anesthesia.
Your anesthesiologist will discuss with you the type of anesthesia that would be appropriate for your surgery or procedure. Below are details and short videos for more information.
General anesthesia is what people most often think of when they hear the word "anesthesia." During general anesthesia, you are completely unconscious and have no sensation. A variety of medications are used during general anesthesia. Some medications are given through the IV (in the vein) and others through a breathing tube.
Your anesthesiologist will review your medical history and perform a physical examination, then determine what medications are most appropriate for you.
General anesthesia can cause a few minor side effects, the most frequent being drowsiness afterward. This typically goes away within 1 to 2 hours after surgery ends. A sore throat is also common and will go away on its own. Some patients may experience nausea, which can be treated with medication. Serious reactions to general anesthesia are extremely rare. Your anesthesia care team has extensive training and immediate access to emergency medications to treat any kind of reaction, and will monitor you continuously throughout your procedure and recovery.
Regional anesthesia is also referred to as a “block” because it completely blocks sensation in an area of the body that requires surgery. The anesthesiologist injects local anesthesia (numbing medication) around the nerves that serve that area. The advantage of regional anesthesia is that you may not need any opioid pain medication after surgery.
The two common types of regional anesthesia are spinal and epidural anesthesia. They are often used during childbirth or for orthopaedic surgeries such as total knee and total hip replacement. Sometimes, an epidural anesthesia is placed before surgery and used to treat pain for 1 or 2 days after surgery, for example after surgery in the chest or abdomen, even when general anesthesia is used during the operation.
Nerve blocks are another type of regional anesthesia that can provide pain relief to a smaller area, typically on an arm or leg. Sometimes a nerve blocks is used in combination with general anesthesia for major surgery on the chest or abdomen.
Monitored Anesthesia Care
Monitored anesthesia care (MAC) is commonly referred to as sedation or "twilight." Medications are given through an IV to make you feel relaxed and sleepy. The level of sedation depends on the type of procedure.
With minimal sedation, often used for eye surgery, a patient is awake, and can respond to questions or instructions. With moderate sedation, the patient may be sleepy but can be awakened easily. Deep sedation is nearly the same as general anesthesia, meaning that the patient is deeply asleep although able to breathe on their own.
Local anesthesia is the term used for medications such as lidocaine that are injected with a needle or applied to the skin as a cream to numb a small area. Local anesthesia alone may provide enough pain relief for minor procedures, such as stitching a wound or dental procedures.