Types of Anesthesia Used During Surgery

Anesthetist administering gas to patient
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Anesthesia is the administration of medication to allow medical procedures to be done without pain, and in some cases, without the patient being awake during the procedure. It is used in a wide range of procedures, from highly invasive surgeries, such as open-heart surgery, to minor procedures such as having a tooth extracted. There are a variety of types of anesthesia, as well as several different medical professionals that are able to give anesthesia.

Types of Anesthesia

There are four types of anesthesia:

  • General anesthesia: This is the strongest type of anesthesia and is the most commonly used one during surgery. With general anesthesia, you are typically given a combination of medications through a mask or IV. It's meant to make you unaware of what is happening around you and prevent pain during your procedure. With this type of anesthesia, you are unconscious and essentially in a medically induced coma.
  • Regional anesthesia: With this type of anesthesia, only the body part being operated on is numbed, which means the patient can be awake, or sedated but still conscious, during the procedure. An epidural block, which is commonly given during childbirth, is an example of regional anesthesia.
  • Local anesthesia: This type of anesthesia is typically used to numb a small site for minor procedures, such as filling a cavity or for skin biopsy. With local anesthesia, the injection of the anesthetic is usually much more painful than the procedure itself.
  • Monitored anesthesia care (MAC): This is is a type of sedation commonly referred to as "twilight sleep." It's administered through an IV to make a patient feel sleepy and relaxed during a procedure. It's usually used for outpatient procedures such as a colonoscopy.

The type of anesthesia used during your surgery typically depends on the type of surgery, your state of health, the length of the surgery, and the preferences of your anesthesia provider and surgeon.

Anesthesia Providers

There are several types of medical professionals who are able to provide anesthesia, including doctors (anesthesiologist), nurse anesthetists, dentists/oral surgeons, and anesthesiologist assistants. The level of training varies between different types of providers, with anesthesiologists having the highest level of training, as they are medical doctors.

Questions to Ask

Before you decide on whether or not to have anesthesia with your procedure, or what type of anesthesia you prefer to get, find out the answers to key questions so you can have the safest experience possible.

Things to Tell Your Anesthesia Provider

Make sure your anesthesia provider is well-informed about your health, medications, and other issues. There are certain risks that can be avoided with an open conversation with prior to a procedure, be candid about your medical history and any previous surgeries you may have had.


Just as no surgery is risk-free, no anesthesia is 100% safe either. Minor side effects can include nausea, vomiting, chills, confusion, and sore throat. Rare, but more serious risks of general anesthesia include:

Postoperative cognitive dysfunction: Often referred to as "brain fog," this can lead to long-term memory and learning problems.

Malignant hyperthermia: This is a serious reaction to anesthesia that can occur during surgery, causing a quick fever, muscle contractions, and even death. If you or a family member has ever experienced this condition during surgery or has ever had heat stroke, you're at a higher risk, so it's key to talk to your doctor about this.

Breathing problems during or after surgery: General anesthesia can be a bigger risk if you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which you stop breathing while you sleep. If you have sleep apnea, anesthesia can cause the throat to close up during surgery, which can make it more difficult to regain consciousness and begin to breathe normally after your procedure.

Regional anesthesia carries small risks, such as pain or itching at the injection site, headaches, and, in rare cases, nerve damage.

Talk to your doctor about these risks the conditions that increase your risk so you can make an educated decision about your care.

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Article Sources

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