The purpose of anesthesia is to prevent you from feeling any pain during a surgical procedure. There are different types of anesthesia that may be used. Your surgical team may take your individual preference into consideration when deciding on an anesthetic for your procedure. However, that is only one factor that determines the type of anesthesia you will receive. The other factors include your health and the specific procedure that you will undergo.
Anesthetics are characterized according to how much of the body they affect.
General anesthesia renders you completely unconscious. Some general anesthetics are administered as gases that you breathe in through a tube mixed with oxygen or through a breathing mask. If this is the case, it is very important that the medical hose fittings remain tight. Otherwise, the anesthetic gases could leak. General anesthesia can also be administered via an intravenous injection.
Local anesthesia is usually performed for minor surgeries. It affects only a specific area of the body. Local anesthesia can be administered topically in the form of a cream or spray, or it can be injected directly into the surgical site.
Most people are familiar with local anesthesia because of dental procedures like fillings. It is common to receive local anesthesia first as a topical and then as an injectable during a surgical procedure. Local anesthetic may also be administered for a vasectomy, breast biopsy, or carpal tunnel release.
The advantage of local anesthesia is that you remain conscious the whole time, which involves less risk.
Like local anesthesia, regional anesthesia affects only a specific area of the body rather than rendering you completely unconscious. However, while local anesthesia only affects a small part of the body, regional anesthesia affects a much larger portion.
The types of regional anesthesia that most people are familiar with are administered to the area of the spinal cord and are used to numb approximately the lower half of the body. You may receive regional anesthesia in the form of an epidural or spinal block for a surgery on your legs. Prostate surgery or cesarean section may also utilize regional anesthesia.
The downside of anesthetics that allow you to remain conscious is that you may experience stress or anxiety during the procedure. A local or regional anesthetic may be combined with a sedative to help you relax. This can be administered orally or via injection. When you have general anesthesia, there will typically be a team to monitor you, ensuring that you do not go under too deep or experience complications.