Anesthesia Discussion
Center: General
Run Time: 4:03

What is Anesthesia?

Most people understand that anesthesia is used to block the perception of pain - but anesthesia plays another, equally important role as well. Let me explain.

Anesthesia allows your surgical team to control - and to monitor - a wide range of natural physiological reflexes. As you know, all surgery involves cutting small amounts of skin or other tissue.

Your mind certainly knows the difference between a surgical incision and, for example, and an accidental cut. The problem is, that your body doesn't understand this difference. In fact, your body reacts pretty dramatically to anything it perceives to be a threat to your well-being.

Without anesthesia, a surgical incision would cause not only pain, but an increase in heart rate, changes in blood pressure and a whole host of other reflexive defense mechanisms which our bodies rely on for protection.

So it's important to realize that anesthesia is meant to calm and relax the mind and body in a general sense - not only to block pain but to control those natural defenses.

It's for that reason that the anesthesia you receive will probably include a sedative - either to relax you or to put you to sleep altogether.

Today, surgeons and anesthesiologists have a wide range of options for keeping you comfortable.

Pain is an alarm signal sensed by nerves and sent to the brain where it's interpreted and felt. All types of anesthesia work by interfering with the transmission or interpretation of that signal.

What we call local anesthesia blocks the signal locally at the nerve where it begins - or somewhere along the nerve between the surgical field and the brain.

With local anesthesia, a region of your body is numbed - and you may receive a sedative - but usually, you remain awake.

If you're given general anesthesia that means that the brain's overall ability to interpret and remember pain has been interrupted. For you, that means being asleep.

Why would your doctor recommend or choose one kind of anesthesia over another? It's a decision based on comfort, precisely where on your body your surgery will take place and your overall physical condition.

This particular surgical technique offers the surgeon a wide selection of anesthesia options. The particular anesthesia chosen will depend on personal preference -- both yours and your doctor's. In some cases, patients are given general anesthesia -- in other words, you might be put to sleep.

But most often, your doctor and anesthesiologist will administer a local anesthetic, either by injecting an anesthetic drug directly around the operative field so that all the tissue layers are numb or by injecting an anesthetic drug into the lower spine. This is called a spinal.

It's more generalized in that it numbs the entire lower body. With a spinal, you won't even feel your toes.

A spinal is still considered to be a kind of local anesthesia in that you remain awake during surgery. It's extremely effective, but takes a little longer to wear off than does a more localized anesthesia.

Whatever method of pain relief is chosen, the anesthesia will probably be accompanied by a calming intravenous sedative as well.

If you've ever experienced any allergic reaction to anesthesia or to any other substance, be sure to let your surgeon or anesthesiologist know well beforehand.

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