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General Anesthesia

Alternate Names

  • total anesthesia

Definition

General anesthesia is a method used to stop pain from being felt during a procedure or surgery. In this form of anesthesia, medication is given to make the person unconscious.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

General anesthesia is the most powerful form of anesthesia. It is usually reserved for major surgery, such as surgery inside the skull, neck, chest, abdomen, and pelvis. General anesthesia may be used for other procedures if the person is unable or unwilling to cooperate during types of anesthesia that leave him or her awake.

How is the procedure performed?

General anesthesia uses medication to make a person unconscious. Medications are commonly breathed into the lungs or injected into the veins through an intravenous line inserted into the vein of the hand or arm.
An individual may also be temporarily paralyzed with other medications to prevent movement during the surgery. A ventilator, or artificial breathing machine, breathes for the person during the procedure because the chest muscles are paralyzed. A ventilator requires a tube to be put through the mouth into the windpipe, known as endotracheal intubation. Oxygen and inhaled medication can then be delivered to the lungs.
The person is watched closely using very sophisticated electronic devices during the procedure. The oxygen levels in the blood, pulse, blood pressure and other functions are monitored. Fluids are usually given through an intravenous line to prevent dehydration and low blood pressure.
The individual is totally asleep and unable to feel pain during the surgery. When the procedure is complete, the medication is turned off. The person will have no memory of the surgery when he or she wakes up.

Sources

Textbook of Surgery, 1997, Sabiston et al.

Anesthesia, 1990, Miller et al.

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