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This page will provide you with information about anaesthetics. For further details, you should speak to your GP or other relevant health professional.
An anaesthetic is a drug mixture that when administered, causes sensation loss. They are grouped into the following:
Your surgeon or anaesthetist will talk through the various options with you and recommend the best type, but it you will make the final decision about which anaesthesia you wish to receive. This document will provide details outlining the benefits and risks in order to help you in your decision, and let you make an informed choice. If you have questions that this document does not answer, it is recommended that you ask your surgeon, anaesthetist, or healthcare team.
— If you suffer from a specific condition or are in pain, anaesthetics can provide pain relief. In this case, they will usually administered by an epidural.
— In an operation or procedure, you will be required to be in a state where your muscles are relaxed and you are not moving. An anaesthetic is given to ensure this is achieved, so the surgeon or doctor can perform the procedure safely.
Local anaesthetic can either be given by the surgeon or anaesthetist.
General, epidural or spinal anaesthetics are given by an anaesthetist (a doctor trained in anaesthesia). They will often be assisted by a healthcare practitioner (who will also have had the relevant training).
These are usually injected through a drip (small tube) into a vein. Within about 30 seconds, most people are asleep. Although the injection may ache slightly at the time, the uncomfortable feeling will often be gone by the time you wake up.
It is also an option to administer anaesthetic as a gas. This will be through a face mask, and should also take effect in about 30 seconds.
During your operation, more of the same anaesthetic is administered either by the drip or by anaesthetic gases in order to keep you asleep. Sometimes the anaesthetist may also administer further medication to limit any sickness or pain afterwards.
When the operation is over, the anaesthetic wears off, which enables you to wake up.
It is possible to give different combinations of anaesthesia, so the operation can proceed with the smallest amount of discomfort to you. An example of this is a local anaesthetic being given to a patient before a general anaesthetic.
The simplest way to give a local anaesthesia is to inject it around the area which is going to have the procedure. It may burn or sting initially, but the area should go numb after a couple of seconds.
When it comes to nerve blocking, a combination of local anaesthetics and painkillers will be injected to the part of your body on which you be operated, near to the major nerves of this area.
This will temporarily numb the nerves to give you pain relief. A fine tube called a catheter is inserted near into the epidural space near the spinal cord. Most of your nerves pass through this space. (see figure 1).
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Once the catheter is in place, a mixture of painkillers and local anaesthetics are injected into the epidural space, and your nerves should be numbed.
This technique is similar, but with a spinal anaesthesia you will only receive one injection. This is inserted into the bag of fluid surrounding the spinal cord.
For most patients all types of anaesthesia are safe. If you require a general anaesthetic, it may be necessary to undergo a couple of tests before the operation, to see how safe this will be. These tests will allow the healthcare team to choose what other options are available and if they need to carry anything out differently.
Death following an operation is nearly always because an individual’s body cannot cope with the surgery itself. This risk increases if you have ill health and require emergency surgery.
The anaesthetist may also recommend that you see your GP, to discuss improving your medical condition beforehand. These include angina, asthma, anaemia or high blood pressure.
If you smoke, you reduce the risk of developing complications, as well as improving your long-term health by stopping smoking at least several weeks beforehand.
Exercising regularly also helps prepare you for the procedure, as well as aiding recovery.
Maintaining a healthy weight prevents you from developing complications that would have a greater risk of occurring if you are overweight.
It is vital that you keep warm in the time around the operation. Be aware that the hospital might be colder than at home, so take warm clothes with you, for example a dressing gown. It is also important that you tell the healthcare team if you are feeling cold. If your body temperature gets too low you could increase your risk of developing complications, including surgical site infections or heart problems. The anaesthetist will be ensuring your body temperature is stable during the procedure.
The healthcare team will take every precaution to make sure that the anaesthetic is safe, but complications can occur. Some of these complications are very severe and can even result in death (risk of anaesthesia contributing to death is 1 in 60,000, risk of death caused directly by anaesthesia is 1 in 200,000). The following figures relating to risk are from studies of people who have received this anaesthetic, and be aware that your surgeon or anaesthetist will be able tell you if your particular case is at a higher or lower risk of complication.
— Risk of serious damage requiring further treatment: 1 in 1,000
— Risk of sight loss: 1 in 125,000
Please refer to the information document entitled “A01 General Anaesthetic”, for further details on the complications associated with general anaesthetics.
Please refer to the information document entitled “A03 Local Anaesthetic” for further details on the complications associated with general anaesthetics.
Overall risk of permanent, significant harm, either from an epidural or spinal anaesthetic, is 1 in 12,550 to 1 in 24,000.
Please refer to the information document entitled “A02 Epidural Anaesthetic” and “ A05 Spinal Aesthetic”, for further details on the complications associated with epidural and spinal anaesthetics.
If there is anything you are unsure about, discuss these possible complications with the surgeon or anaesthetist.
Anaesthesia in its different forms can be used to provide a safe and effective way for you to undergo a operation, as well as giving you the necessary pain relief. An awareness of them will also help you to detect and treat any potential problems at an early stage. Complications can occur, although usually people do not have any issues and are satisfied with the anaesthetic. In order to make an informed decision about an anaesthetic, it is important that you are aware of these complications.
Please use this information leaflet should you need to talk to a healthcare professional.
References: EIDO Healthcare Limited – The operation and treatment information on this page is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.