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  Sat 21 May 2022

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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.


Operations cause pain and people who have good pain control after their operations are less likely to suffer from heart attacks, chest infections and blood clots. They also get up and about more quickly and may get home sooner.

If you are in a lot of pain, do ask for pain relief. Although none of them can be guaranteed to make you absolutely pain-free, they should help you not to be in a lot of pain after your operation.

Simple painkillers
You can use these drugs on their own or combined with other painkillers. After your operation you should use simple painkillers regularly such as paracetamol, anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen) and codeine or similar drugs (e.g.oxycodone and tramadol). Although these drugs may not completely treat your pain, if you take them regularly they reduce the amount of other painkillers you might need.

Some people cannot take simple painkillers for various reasons. It is important that you let your anaesthetist know before your operation if you have had any problems with these types of drugs before, or if you have a history of stomach ulcers, kidney damage, bleeding or asthma.

Possible complications
• Paracetamol is exceptionally safe in normal doses
• Anti-inflammatory drugs can sometimes cause stomach irritation. This can be more severe with ulcers or stomach bleeding
• Anti-inflammatory drugs can make asthma worse, but most people with asthma are not affected
• Codeine or similar drugs can make you feel sick or light-headed. They can make you itch and almost always cause some degree of constipation.

This is not a definitive list and symptoms will vary with each patient. Please ask your doctor for more information.

Morphine and similar drugs
For more severe pain you may be prescribed morphine or similar drugs

Possible complications
• Itching is common, but not usually severe
• Constipation is common
• Sickness or feeling sick, which can usually be treated
• Respiratory depression, where your breathing slows down too much. Serious complications are rare. Your oxygen levels will be monitored

This is not a definitive list and symptoms will vary with each patient. Please ask your doctor for more information.

Intravenous delivery (using a drip)
The most common intravenous delivery is a technique known as patient-controlled analgesia (PCA). A special pump, containing the drugs, is connected to a drip (small tube) in one of your veins. If you are in pain, press the button and a small dose of drugs will be given. The pump has several safety features so you can’t overdose by accident.

Other ways of giving morphine and similar drugs
The drugs can be given by injection either under the skin (subcutaneous) or into the muscle (intramuscular). The drugs can also be given by mouth once you are eating and drinking normally.

Epidural anaesthetic
Some people may be offered epidural pain relief after their operation. Epidural pain relief involves inserting a fine catheter (small tube) into an area called the epidural space in your back. All your nerves pass through this space. Local anaesthetics and other painkilling drugs are injected down the catheter into the epidural space to numb your nerves.

Epidurals provide good pain relief but, like other forms of pain relief, cannot guarantee that you’ll be pain-free. Sometimes the drugs are injected continuously and the dose varied, if needed, by the nurses. As well as continuous infusion, you can sometimes have a button that allows you to top up the epidural by giving a small, safe dose when you need it (PCA).

Possible complications
• The injection fails to relieve your pain
• The epidural injection makes your pain worse. This usually settles quickly
• Low blood pressure, which is common and can be treated straightaway
• A particular type of headache that can happen if the bag of fluid is around the spinal cord is punctured. This type of headache can be treated
• Seizures, due to the local anaesthetics, which is rare and is usually temporary
• Temporary leg or arm weakness
• Backache – it is common to experience a bruised feeling where the injection was given
• Infection around the spine
• Short-term/long-term nerve injury, which is rare
• A blood clot in the spine, which is rare.

This is not a definitive list and symptoms will vary with each patient. Please ask your doctor for more information.

For further information, please click below
Introduction to anaesthesia

General anaesthesia
Regional anaesthesia including epidural anaesthesia and spinal anaesthesia
Local anaesthesia

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:
Anaesthesia explained
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
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
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www.eidoactive.co.uk – for information on how exercise can help you
www.aboutmyhealth.org - for support and information you can trust

informationWho 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

Please give us feedback
Please send us your comments or tell us abut your experience of using the website when you meet with your a GP, nurse or any other menber of our staff.


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