We throw around the term “going under” when talking about surgery. But did you know that there are other types of anesthesia that don’t require loss of consciousness? It pays to be informed about what anesthesia is available to you before signing a release.
The Purpose of Anesthesia
Although you probably know what anesthesia is, it’s important to understand why you might need—or not need—to be numbed. You might need anesthesia for several reasons. For one, to relax you when you need to get calm quickly. For another, to make you forget what’s happening around you (ever heard of laughing as?). Anesthesia is also commonly used to literally make you “go under” so that you remain unconscious for surgery. Yet perhaps the most common reason for anesthesia is to block pain.
Types of Anesthesia
Blocking pain is an important part of anesthesia services, and it’s not necessary to lose consciousness in order to do this. Have you ever had a filling at the dentist? Had a mole removed? You’ve probably received anesthesia.
Types of anesthesia include:
- Local anesthesia, given through shots injected into the affected site
- Regional anesthesia, administered through nerve blocks (like a spinal block) or epidurals
- General anesthesia, proffered through IV or gas and impacting the brain so that you decrease or lose consciousness
Of these three types of anesthesia, only one causes you to fall asleep. With the other two, you simply cannot feel the operation in the specific area. This is how women can remain awake during cesarean section surgeries, and why you don’t need to black out when you get a tooth filling.
How do you decide what anesthesia to get?
You may be wondering how to decide what anesthesia services you need. Don’t worry; the medical professionals overseeing your care will usually decide what you need and bring you a release of liability form to sign, as well as explain the risks. Effects can include infection from an injection site, pneumonia, headaches, or a sore throat, among other complications. You need to be educated about these effects so that you can decide between local or general anesthesia. For example, if needles make you queasy, you may have a choice between local anesthesia or laughing gas at the dentist.
In some cases, the choice to get anesthesia services at all is up to the patient. For example, when delivering a baby, you may choose not to get any anesthesia. Although with most surgeries you will probably be required to get some type of anesthesia, knowing how anesthesia works is empowering. But keep in mind that this marvel of modern medicine allows lives to be saved everyday. Have you ever watched a TV show or movie set during the Civil War? They would simply give patients a block of wood to bite down on for small surgeries. You could say we have it pretty good today.