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General Anesthesia
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

General Anesthesia Overview

Written by FoundHealth.


General anesthesia puts the entire body to sleep by giving medicine. 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 medicines given by closely monitoring the body’s functions. Medicines are used to:

  • Prevent pain
  • Relax the muscles
  • Regulate body functions

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Unless you are having emergency surgery, you will meet with an anesthesiologist before surgery and will be asked about:

  • Your health history and your family's health history—Tell your doctor if you have had anesthesia before and your reaction to it. Tell your doctor about your family's history with anesthesia.
  • Medicines that you take, including herbs and supplements —These can have an effect on how the anesthesia works.

Before the procedure:

  • Your height and weight will be taken.
  • You will need to fast the night before surgery.
  • You may need to take certain medicines in the morning before surgery.

Description of the Procedure

General anesthesia is broken down into three phases:

  • Induction phase—Medicines will be given that result in the loss of consciousness. These will be given through an IV or through gas into the lungs. A breathing tube will be placed down your windpipe. This will be attached to a machine that helps you continue to breathe normally.
  • Middle or maintenance phase—Medicines will be given based on your responses. These may keep you asleep or regulate your body functions.
  • Recovery or emergence phase—This will slowly reverse the anesthesia. The medicines given will allow you to wake up. When you are starting to awaken and are breathing on your own, the breathing tube will be removed.

Endotracheal Intubation
Endotracheal Intubation
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Immediately After Procedure

As you wake up, you will be closely monitored. You will be given pain medicine if you need it.

How Long Will It Take?

This procedure takes as long as needed, depending on the surgery.

How Much Will It Hurt?

General anesthesia numbs all pain. Since you are asleep, your brain will not sense any pain signals.

Average Hospital Stay

How long you spend in the hospital depends on:

  • Type of surgery
  • Your reaction to the surgery and anesthesia

Post-procedure Care

Once 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. Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions .



American Association of Nurse Anesthetists

American Society of Anesthesiologists


Canadian Anesthesiologists Society

Health Canada


Anesthesia and you. American Society of Anesthesiologists website. Available at: . Accessed July 28, 2009.

General anesthesia. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: . Updated June 2009. Accessed July 28, 2009.

The Joint Commission website. Available at: . Accessed July 28, 2009.

Pollard R, Coyle J, Gilbert R, Beck J. Intraoperative awareness in a regional medical system: A review of 3 years' data. Anesthesiology. 2007;269-274.

Sackel DJ. Anesthesia awareness: an analysis of its incidence, the risk factors involved, and prevention. Journal of Clinical Anesthesia. 2006;18:483-485.



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