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Anesthesia: How Does It Work?

I'm going to be honest. When it comes to surgery, the idea of being "put to sleep" for a couple hours freaks me out. I will admit it, I am more afraid of the anesthesia than the scalpel. Are you freaked out a little too? Maybe if we knew more about anesthesia, we'd feel better about it.

When it comes to anesthesia, there are 4 kinds:

  • Local - this involves numbing a small area by injecting a shot just under the skin. (Lidocaine is a popular local anesthetic used by many dentists).
  • Regional - A certain area is made numb, but you are still conscious (an epidural is an example).
  • Sedation - This is also known as "twilight sleep." The person is just drowsy and it makes them more comfortable. Low levels of general anesthesia are used to produce this sensation.
  • General - You are given liquid or a gas that makes you unaware of what's happening, immobile, pain-free, and free from any memory during the period you were anesthetized (this is the stuff they use when you are having major surgery).

So how does it work? To find out

Scientists and doctors don't completely understand exactly how anesthesia works, but they speculate that blocking nerve impulses to your brain is what makes you numb. At a cellular level this occurs by blocking sodium channels in the nerve membranes. When sodium is blocked in this way, the nerve cannot conduct an impulse and therefore no sensation can be transmitted.

Where you go numb and for how long depends on where the drug is administered and how much of it. Local and regional anesthesia are pretty safe for the most part, but with general anesthesia, since your entire body is affected, a patient's vital signs are carefully monitored while they're "under." With all types of anesthesia, as long as you're healthy and young, you shouldn't have any complications.

Hopefully all that allays your fears a bit.


Join The Conversation
Cathy-Hodson Cathy-Hodson 9 years
The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) has an entire section of its website ( dedicated to patients. This comprehensive patient section includes several informative brochures available in PDF format about what to do before and after you receive anesthesia, a preoperative questionnaire to share with your anesthesia provider, and information about labor and delivery anesthesia options. The section also addresses the issue of anesthetic awareness. These resources are intended to address common fears about receiving anesthesia by educating patients about the anesthesia process. They also let you know which important questions you should ask as well as what vital information you should give to your anesthesia provider so they can choose the best possible anesthesia for you.
beckafer237 beckafer237 9 years
I had regional for knee surgery...and general for my wisdom teeth and another surgery I had. Anesthesia is a great is morphine.
7kimba7 7kimba7 9 years
tralalala... anesthesia is your friend with those wisdom teeth. I just had mine out last year, so private message me if you have any more questions about it!
tralalala tralalala 9 years
I'm getting all of my wisdom teeth taken out on the 5th....I'm terrified. I wasn't that scared until I read "Scientists and doctors don't completely understand exactly how anesthesia works," so thanks a lot haha
sweetpeabrina sweetpeabrina 9 years
Wow! Thanks for the relevant info! I'm going to be having surgery and going under general anesthesia around christmas. Interesting!
Lorelei-Spirit Lorelei-Spirit 9 years
uurgh... My daughter's birth is still somewhat fresh in my mind and that photo gives me the willies! I am so glad I got the epidural, but my husband almost passed out when he saw the size of the needle (he told me days later). Glad I didn't see it. Creepy.
7kimba7 7kimba7 9 years
Mmmmm... anesthesia. I don't know how I would have had those 4 impacted wisdom teeth removed without it.
Gyanish-Gungaram Gyanish-Gungaram 9 years
Sometimes chloroform is used as a form of sedative. And if it was not for anesthesia, most people would have died during surgery due to the sheer pain they would have experienced. SO you must be thankful that anesthesia exists! ;)
Bksuga Bksuga 9 years
wow thats good to know. I broke my leg on mothers day i have a compond fracture and so they put 7 pins and a plate. i had surgery twice and i hated going to sleep i heard if they give u too much u can go in to coma!!!!
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