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The word anesthesia means a loss of feeling or pain. The term, however, is more commonly used to describe a series of procedures by which medications are given to an individual to prevent feelings of pain, or sometimes awareness, during a surgery or other procedure.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

A person who is having a painful procedure may need anesthesia. The procedure may range from getting stitches for a cut to open heart surgery.

How is the procedure performed?

There are many different types of anesthesia and ways to give the medications. Common examples include:
  • general anesthesia
  • epidural anesthesia
  • spinal anesthesia
  • topical anesthesia
  • regional anesthesia
  • local anesthesia
  • dissociative anesthesia
General anesthesia is a type of anesthesia which puts the person to sleep. The person is made unconscious with medications that are breathed into the lungs or injected into the veins. In general anesthesia, a person is also temporarily paralyzed with medications. A person has no memory of the surgery when he or she wakes up. General anesthesia is used for most major operations.

In dissociative anesthesia, the person is not put to sleep completely, but rather the medication, in addition to controlling pain, induces a trancelike state from which the person emerges with no memory of the procedure.

Epidural anesthesia and spinal anesthesia both involve injecting medications into the spinal column. The medications act directly on the spinal cord and nerves to stop the feeling of pain. A person is generally awake during the procedure. These types of anesthesia are commonly used during childbirth and with surgeries below the waist.
Regional anesthesia, local anesthesia, and topical anesthesia involve injecting medication into the skin or rubbing it onto the skin near the site of the procedure, causing numbing. In regional anesthesia a large area, such as the entire hand or leg, is numbed. A local or topical anesthesia is used before a minor procedure, such as putting stitches into a cut.


Sabiston Textbook of Surgery, 1997, Sabiston et al.

Anesthesia, 1990, Miller et al.

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