Anesthesia can be defined as the loss of normal sensation or feeling. Anesthesiologists use drugs to produce this loss of feeling or awareness.

Types of Anesthesia

  1. Infiltration- A local anesthetic is injected directly into the tissue where the surgery will take place. Many people encounter this technique in the emergency department, when a doctor injects local anesthetic before sewing up a cut. The same method can be used for a variety of minor procedures in the operating room, too. In these cases, although the injections may be performed by the surgeon him/herself, an anesthesiologist is often needed to monitor the patient and to give sedation or other medications that may be required during the operation.
  2. Regional anesthesia- Local anesthesia is injected around a major nerve bundle. This anesthetic method produces temporary numbness in a limited area of the body by blocking nerve impulses from that area. There are two types of regional anesthesia: peripheral nerve blocks, which involve a relatively small part of the body, such as an arm or a foot; and spinals and epidurals, which can involve the entire lower portion of the body.

"It's important to note that neither local infiltration nor regional anesthesia puts you to sleep. This means that, using either of these forms of anesthesia, you can have surgery comfortably while wide awake."

  1. General anesthesia- When most people think surgery, they picture this type of anesthesia, in which patients are put temporarily into a deep sleep. In practice, general anesthesia ranges from the relatively light levels used during minor surgery to the deepest levels used in major operations. The defining characteristics of general anesthesia is that, unlike infiltration and regional anesthesia, it acts primarily on the brain rather than on the nerves leading to the brain.

Anesthesia Care Team

The anesthesia care team makes up an anesthesiologist and a nurse anesthetist. An anesthesiologist is a physician who has gone through four years of medical school plus an additional four years of training in medicine and anesthesia. A certified registered nurse anesthetist completes two years of nursing school after college plus two additional years of training in anesthesia. Normally the nurse anesthetist stays through the entire surgery to make sure that no complications occur during the procedure.

Hill, A.J. MD, PhD. The Patient's Guide to Anesthesia. New York: Kensington, 1999.

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Published: May 03, 2007
Updated: May 22, 2007