5 questions about anesthesia

Anesthesia is used to make you emotionally and physically comfortable
during surgery. It can relieve anxiety, block pain and,
in some cases, put you in an unconscious state so that you aren’t
aware of and don’t remember your surgery.

Anesthesia can also help achieve better results for patients
undergoing non-surgical procedures. For example, if you need to hold
your breath to ensure a clear, accurate image, your doctor may
recommend anesthesia to help relax your muscles. 

We talked with Elizabeth
Rebello, M.D.,
about types of anesthesia, potential side effects
and how best to prepare. Here’s what she shared.

What are the types of anesthesia?

There are four types of anesthesia:

  • Local anesthesia — You’ll receive an injection that
    is isolated to the area of the procedure. The drug will numb only
    that area, and you’ll remain conscious.
  • Monitored anesthesia (a.k.a. twilight anesthesia)
    Medications for sedation and pain relief are given to make you feel
    calm and relaxed, but you may hear what’s going on around you. An
    anesthesia provider is present throughout the procedure.
  • Regional anesthesia — By combining local
    anesthetics with other medications, we can provide nerve blocks to a
    larger area of the body. This type of anesthesia is frequently used
    during a procedure and for postoperative pain relief. We commonly
    use this technique with surgeries performed on the breasts,
    abdominal area and brain.
  • General anesthesia —We render you fully unconscious
    so you’re in a sleep-like state. You’ll be unable to recall the
    procedure when you wake.

The type of anesthesia you receive will depend on the procedure you undergo.

How is anesthesia administered?

It depends on the type of anesthesia. To start, you can expect a
trained nurse or nurse anesthetist to insert a line into one of your
veins with a needle, called an intravenous line or an IV. This allows
the medication to flow directly into your blood stream for quicker
action. The needle is removed and only a tube known as a catheter
remains secured in your vein. Next, you’ll likely receive sedation to
help calm your nerves. When you’re taken into the operating room,
we’ll connect monitors that helps us assess your heart and lung
function. Then, after receiving oxygen through a face mask, you’re
ready to receive more powerful anesthetic medications through the IV.

If you’re receiving general anesthesia, we’ll first give you
medications to put you asleep. We’ll then place a tube in your airway
or a device above your vocal cords to ensure you can breathe
comfortably throughout the procedure. To ensure you stay in a
sleep-like state, you’ll inhale anesthesia in a gas form.

How should I prepare for anesthesia?

Prior to surgery, we’ll meet with you to assess your overall health.
If you’ve had previous medical concerns, such as heart and lung
issues, bring them up during this meeting because you may be at higher
risk for complications. We also want to know if you’ve had any dental
work, such as dental implants.  In addition, alert your
anesthesiologist if you have a family history of a condition known as
malignant hyperthermia, a severe increase in body temperature that can
be triggered by certain medications used during general anesthesia.

Also, don’t eat eight hours before surgery because there’s a risk of
aspiration. This means food in your stomach could enter your lungs
while you’re under anesthesia. You may drink clear liquids such as
water, apple juice and sports drinks up to two hours before the surgery.

In addition, at your pre-operative evaluation, it’s important you
share an accurate list of medications you’re currently taking. We may
ask you to take new medications prior to anesthesia, or we may ask you
to stop taking certain medications that may cause complication when
receiving anesthesia. It is important to bring your home
with you on the day of surgery.

Lastly, if you’re a smoker, it’s best not to smoke prior to surgery.
In fact, it’s a great time to quit smoking and start a new, healthy chapter in
your life.

What are side effects of anesthesia?

Nausea and vomiting are the most common anesthesia side effects, and
patients who receive general anesthesia may experience grogginess when
they wake up. But there are medications that we can give to help
relieve your discomfort.

Is there anything else that you want patients preparing for
anesthesia to know?

Anesthetics are powerful drugs shouldn’t be administered by anyone
other than an anesthesiologist. We have extensive training, so we can
address complications if they arise. Unfortunately, the best drug in
the wrong hands can cause death. You’re in the right hands at MD Anderson.

If you have concerns about how your body will handle anesthesia,
don’t hesitate to speak up. We have different ways to tailor your care
to your needs and goals. And it’s OK to be nervous. We’re here to tell
you what to expect and help you get back to living your life.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.