General anesthesia puts the entire body to sleep by giving medication. It is often used during emergency surgery. It is also commonly used if a procedure would make you uncomfortable if you were awake.
Doctors trained in anesthesia (anesthesiologists) carefully balance the amount of anesthesia medications given by closely monitoring the body’s functions. Medications are used to:
This is used so that surgery can be done without you:
Every precaution is used to prevent complications. Often, medications are given in advance to prevent certain problems, such as nausea and vomiting. Even so, complications may occur and include:
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
Unless you are having emergency surgery, you will meet with an anesthesiologist before surgery and will be asked about:
Before the procedure:
General anesthesia is broken down into 3 phases:
As you wake up, you will be closely monitored. Any pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
General anesthesia numbs all pain. Since you are asleep, your brain will not sense any pain signals.
How long you spend in the hospital depends on:
When you have recovered from anesthesia, you will be sent to a hospital room or home. For the first 24 hours or longer, avoid doing activities that require your attention, such as driving.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
American Society of Anesthesiologists
Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society
Anesthesia—what to expect. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_body/medical_care/anesthesia.html. Updated April 2012. Accessed September 29, 2014.
General anesthesia. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/general-anesthesia. Updated January 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Pollard R, Coyle J, Gilbert R, Beck J. Intraoperative awareness in a regional medical system: A review of 3 years' data. Anesthesiology. 2007;106(2)269-274.
Sackel DJ. Anesthesia awareness: an analysis of its incidence, the risk factors involved, and prevention. J Clin Anesth. 2006;18(7):483-485.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Donald Buck, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.