Frequently Asked Questions
If you are about to have a medical procedure that requires anesthesia, you may have some questions about what to expect. This page will answer some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about anesthesia. This information is general information which may or may not apply to your situation. We recommend a more in-depth discussion about anesthesia with your anesthesiologist at the time of your procedure.
What is anesthesia?
Anesthesia is the rendering of the patient insensitive to pain. It is the medications and techniques used so that you don’t feel pain during your procedure.
What are the different types of anesthesia?
Anesthesia terminology you may hear before your procedure include sedation, general anesthesia, regional anesthesia, spinal, epidural, local anesthesia, or nerve block. Your anesthesiologist may elect to offer any one or combinations of these methods to ensure you have the best possible experience during your procedure.
Sedation is the use of medications to alter consciousness and alleviate pain and anxiety during a procedure.
General Anesthesia refers to a type of anesthesia which makes you unconscious so you can’t feel pain. This is accomplished by various medications delivered to you through your IV and/or as a gas that you breath.
Local Anesthesia uses numbing medicine to numb a small area of your body by injecting near the area to be operated upon. It is usually used for smaller minor procedures. It may be used in conjunction with sedation to enhance your comfort during the procedure.
Regional anesthesia is the use of numbing medications to block sensations of pain from an area of the body, such as an arm or leg or the abdomen. Regional anesthesia allows a procedure to be done on a region of the body without your being unconscious although it is frequently used along with sedation or a general anesthetic. Types of regional anesthesia include nerve blocks, spinals, and epidurals.
Nerve Blocks are a type of regional anesthesia in which numbing medication is injected around a nerve or group of nerves to eliminate sensation from a specific area of the body.
Spinal Anesthesia is the use of local anesthesia injected into the spinal fluid to achieve numbness in the lower half of the body.
Epidural Anesthesia is the injection of local anesthetics into the epidural space (usually by placing a catheter in this area) which decreases sensations over the lower body. This type of anesthesia is frequently used to provide pain relief during labor.
Who is involved in my anesthesia care?
Your anesthesia may be provided by either an anesthesiologist or a care team including both an anesthesiologist and a nurse anesthetist.
A physician anesthesiologist will assess and prescribe your anesthetic care with you before surgery. He or she will be present in the operating room periodically at key parts during your anesthesia.
A nurse anesthetist is a health professional who is trained to care for you and deliver general and regional anesthesia. They will stay with you continuously during your surgery and will be checking your breathing, heart rate and other vital body functions while you are being anesthetized.
What is the pre-anesthesia assessment all about?
Before your anesthetic, depending on your type of surgery and/or your health history, you will either come in and be seen or participate in a phone interview with a member of the anesthesia team. The purpose of this assessment is to understand your health history, medications, identify concerns, answer questions, and prepare you for the anesthetic experience. Important information will be exchanged during this interview. It is important that you bring or know your medications and how you take them, know who has been treating you and how to contact them, and know your health history. This step in planning is a very important part of your anesthesia care.
During this visit you will be given specific instructions regarding your medications, special needs, eating, drinking, what to wear, jewelry, makeup, contacts, and smoking. You may be asked to stop certain medications such as blood thinners before your surgery. Specific instructions regarding other medications such as insulin and blood pressure medications may be given. Many of your questions can be answered during this appointment. Please make every effort to be available for this important part of your anesthesia care.
Can I eat or drink before my surgery?
If you are going to have anesthesia, we ask that you stop eating 8 hours before your procedure. We also ask that you only drink small amounts of non carbonated clear liquids such as water, black coffee, apple juice, or gatorade up to 2 hours before your surgery then stop drinking anything. This is to prevent you from having food back up from your stomach and being sucked into your lungs while you are anesthetized (also known as aspiration.) If aspiration occurs, it could lead to a life threatening pneumonia.
Can I use tobacco before my surgery?
It is best that you refrain from smoking for as long as possible before your surgery. Cigarette smoking is harmful on may levels and it is suggested that you stop smoking for as long as possible before your surgery but for at least 24 hours prior to anesthesia if possible.
It is equally important that you do not chew or dip tobacco or use snuff after midnight on the day of your surgery.
May I wear jewelry?
It is best that you remove your jewelry and leave it at home. If there are articles of jewelry that you cannot remove, please discuss with your anesthesia providers before your surgery.
What should I wear? What can I bring?
On the day of surgery wear loose fitting comfortable clothing that are easy to remove. (eg sweat pants and t shirt) Please wear loose fitting cotton undergarments (no nylon). Do not bring valuables to surgery with you as they will not be able to accompany you into the operating room. You will be asked to change into a gown and be given a bag in which to place your clothing and belongings before your surgery.
Can I keep my partials, dentures?
Before going into surgery you will be asked to remove any dentures, partials, retainers, or any type of oral appliances to avoid displacement and injury.
Can I chew gum?
Please do not chew gum before surgery.
Can I wear makeup?
It is best to not wear makeup on the day of surgery. The anesthesia team will need to assess your true skin and lip tones throughout your procedure. Eye makeup could potentially cause eye injury and irritation if it inadvertently gets in your eye. Fingernail polish may interfere with accurate monitoring of your oxygen levels.
Can I wear my contacts?
Depending on the type and length of your surgery you may be asked to remove any contact lenses that you are wearing.
What happens while I am anesthetized?
While under the influence of anesthesia, a member of your anesthesia team will stay with you the entire time. Their function is to continuously monitor the surgery progress, maintain your body’s well being, and deliver medications as needed to keep you safe and unaware. After your procedure is over, they will wake you up and accompany you to the recovery room where your care will be transferred to the recovery room staff. Frequent reassessments are made by your anesthesia staff before you are discharged from the recovery room.
Will I remember anything?
It is very uncommon to remember anything after general anesthesia. For procedures that are done under spinals, blocks, local or sedation anesthesia, the primary goal is to keep you comfortable and to decrease your anxiety. Your memory during these procedures may stay intact, be incomplete, or be completely attenuated depending on the type and amount of sedation medication you receive.
Will I dream during my anesthesia?
Dreaming is unusual but is possible during the period of time you are awakening from your anesthetic.
What are the side effects and how long do they last?
Some common effects after general anesthesia include nausea and vomiting, disorientation, confusion, sleepiness, dizziness, muscle aches, headaches, itching, sore throat, hoarseness, dry mouth, coughing, shivering, difficulty urinating, and bruising or swelling at IV access sites. Most of the time these are very short lived and/or will resolve in a few hours to days.
Side effects of regional anesthesia may include prolonged numbness, trouble urinating, pain or bruising at needle insertion site, lower blood pressure, headache, droopy eyelids, shortness of breath, or muscle weakness.
What are the major risks?
Overall, general anesthesia is very safe. Even very sick patients can be anesthetized safely. It is the procedure itself which offers the most risk. The risk of death related to anesthesia is actually quite small for a healthy patient. (0.0005%-0.001%) Your risk may increase with additional identified medical problems. Other major risks include postoperative confusion, pneumonia, stroke, heart attack, nerve injury, dental injury, unintended awareness. All of these risks are very unusual.
Discussion of the benefits and risks of your anesthetic is part of the informed consent process. On the day of surgery, the anesthesiologist who will be caring for you will evaluate you, determine your risk, and discuss your options with you before you undergo surgery.
For more information on risks please visit this site:
When Can I Go Home?
If your surgery is being done on an outpatient basis, your recovery from anesthesia will be reassessed frequently. When your level of anesthesia has sufficiently worn off and your side effects and pain are controlled, you will be allowed to leave. You will be given specific instructions about follow up visits and who to contact if you experience problems after discharge. We ask that you have someone to drive you and stay with you for the first 24 hours after anesthesia.
When am I able to make decisions after surgery?
We ask that you refrain from signing documents or making important decisions until the effects of your anesthesia and pain medications have subsided.
What other educational sources do you recommend?