You and Your Anaesthetic
Information to help patients prepare for an anaesthetic
This page aims to offer you an introduction to anaesthesia. There are wide differences in how much information people want. Only you can know how much you want to know. We offer some information here and at the end we suggest where you can find out more. Always remember that your anaesethetist can answer specific questions for you and help you to determine your best choice of anaesthesia based on what your personal health status, the surgery you are having and the experience and knowledge of your anaesthetist. Produced by Dr Michelle Reichman whilst she was training at Haughton Thornley Medical Centres.
1. GENERAL ANAESTHESIA
What is a general anaesthetic?
A general anaesthetic is a combination of drugs that causes a state of controlled unconsciousness. It is used for operations or medical procedures as it causes a loss of sensation and makes you unaware of what is happening to you. Anaesthetic unconsciousness is different from unconsciousness due to disease or injury and is different from sleep. As the anaesthetic drugs wear off, your consciousness starts to return.
How is the anaesthetic given?
Most people are sent to sleep by injecting the drugs through a drip (small tube) into a vein. It takes about 30 seconds to work. For some people, it may be more appropriate to go to sleep by breathing an anaesthetic gas through a face mask. This also takes about 30 seconds to work.
Are there any alternatives to a general anaesthetic?
Other forms of anaesthetic include injections near the area of surgery (local anaesthesia) or injections of local anaesthetic near major nerves or the spinal cord (epidural or spinal anaesthesia). Local anaesthetics will numb the area to be operated on but you will be awake or under sedation for the operation.
Is a general anaesthetic safe?
A general anaesthetic is safe for most people. Your anaesthetist may need to do some tests before the operation to assess how safe a general anaesthetic is for you. These may include an ECG, blood tests or lung-function tests.
What complications can happen?
1. Minor complications - Sickness or feeling sick, Sore throat, Headache, Muscle and back pains, Dental damage
2. Serious complications - Loss or change of hearing, Eye injury, Nerve injury, Heart attack, Stroke, Chest infection and other breathing problems
How will my anaesthetist know that I am really asleep?
The anaesthetist continuously monitors the amount of anaesthetic in your body and, above certain levels, nobody has ever been shown to be awake.
How soon will I recover?
A general anaesthetic can affect your judgement and reactions for the first 24 hours after you have woken up. If you are fit and maintain a healthy weight, you are more likely to do well after having a general anaesthetic.
Click on one of the following for further information:
Introduction to anaesthesia
Regional anaesthesia including epidural anaesthesia and spinal anaesthesia
Pain relief after surgery
Further information from the Royal College of Anaesthetists for patients is available by clicking here
The Royal College of Anaesthetists have also created a series of leaflets on the following subjects that you can download from here:
You and your anaesthetic
Your child's general anaesthetic
Headache after epidural or spinal anaesthetic
Your spinal anaesthetic
Anaesthetic choices for hip or knee replacement
Epidurals for pain relief after surgery
Your child's general anaesthetic for dental treatment
Your tonsillectomy as day surgery
Local anaesthesia for eye surgery
Your anaesthetic for aortic surgery
For further information:
Royal College of Anaesthetists at www.rcoa.ac.uk
Royal College of Anaesthetists and Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland at www.youranaesthetic.info
NHS smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169 and at www.gosmokefree.co.uk
www.eatwell.gov.uk – for advice on maintaining a healthy weight
www.eidoactive.co.uk – for information on how exercise can help you
www.aboutmyhealth.org - for support and information you can trust
Who supplies the information for this website?
There are many sources of information now available to us all on the internet, what we have endeavoured to do with this site is to bring together reliable sources of information from NHS Choices (National Health Service), BBC Health as well as links to patient and carer organisations, charities and others that we feel can be trusted. Please refer to the terms and conditions of use and ALWAYS CONSULT A DOCTOR OR OTHER HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL IF YOU REQUIRE MEDICAL HELP
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