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The Role of Anesthesia in Surgery

Going into surgery — whether a minor or major procedure — can conjure fear in patients for a myriad of reasons. One of the aspects that can be of special concern is going under anesthesia. 

What is Anesthesia?

A fact often overlooked is that anesthesia comes in several forms. It ranges from simple pain blocks — like those used for dental procedures and many outpatient procedures — to general anesthesia, which is widely used for both minor and major surgeries.

Anesthesia is an ever-evolving discipline and great strides have been made to ensure that the use of anesthesia is both safe and effective. 

The use of anesthesia in any procedure is used for your benefit to lessen or eliminate pain and the decision to use it is not taken lightly. You will be monitored at all times by trained specialists whose sole concern is your safety and comfort.

Types of Anesthesia

There are different types of anesthesia, but these are the most common.

Regional Anesthesia

This type of anesthesia is used to block pain in certain areas, or regions, of your body. The most common ones being peripheral nerve blocks, neuraxial anesthesia and fascial plane blocks.  

Peripheral nerve blocks are typically used for procedures involving the arms, legs, hands and feet. The medication is injected usually under ultrasound guidance around a specific nerve or groups of nerves and blocks sensation and sometimes the ability of muscles to move. The pain relief achieved can last for several hours up to a couple of days depending on the medication used.

Fascial plane blocks are somewhat similar to peripheral nerve blocks, however instead of around nerves, medication is injected in between muscle layers in order to block smaller nerve fibers that run through these layers. These blocks tend to be more an adjunct to general anesthesia to reduce overall pain associated with procedures. Like peripheral blocks, ultrasound is typically used to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Neuraxial anesthesia includes spinal blocks and epidurals — which are often used during labor and delivery, and sometimes during hip and knee procedures. In this type of anesthesia, medication is injection into the space just adjacent to or directly into the spinal canal blocking a large area of your body from your torso downwards from feeling pain. 

Conscious Sedation

Sometimes known as “twilight sleep” or “twilight sedation,” is a type of anesthesia given via an IV that both reduces or eliminates pain and helps you relax. Most patients fall asleep and have little or no memory of the procedure.

This type of anesthesia is typically used during procedures such as colonoscopies or minor gynecologic procedures and may also be used when performing regional anesthesia. Since you will not be completely sedated, there is no need for a breathing tube. Most people tolerate this very well and are back to their usual self in no time, though on occasion you might feel groggy for a few hours after.

General Anesthesia

Probably the most well-known type of anesthesia is general anesthesia. This type is used for both minor and major surgical procedures, and sometimes regional anesthesia is combined with it, to help decrease your pain during recovery.

While it sounds scary, you will be completely unconscious and thus unaware of the surgical procedure. The process uses a combination of medications given to you through an IV and gases that you will breathe through a mask or breathing tube.

After you are fully asleep, a breathing tube or another breathing device known as a laryngeal mask airway (LMA), will be inserted to breathe for you during your procedure. Your vital signs are monitored at all times to make sure that the anesthesia is working as it should.

Safety in Anesthesia

Your comfort and care are paramount no matter what type of anesthesia you receive.

Just like any procedure, there are risks involved — but with the medical advances we have today, anesthesia as a whole, is considered one of the safest procedures currently used to lessen and eliminate pain.

Before your procedure, your anesthesiologist will stop by and explain the procedure and will answer any questions or listen to any concerns you may have.

For more information, visit tanner.org.

Tanner Health System, Surgical Services

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