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What is anaesthesia?

Anaesthesia is a medical treatment that keeps you from feeling pain during procedures or surgery. The medications used to block pain are called anaesthetics. Different types of anaesthesia work in different ways. Some anaesthetic medications numb certain parts of the body, while other medications numb the brain, to induce a night of sleep through more invasive surgical procedures, like those within the head, chest, or abdomen.

How does anaesthesia work?

Anaesthesia temporarily blocks sensory/pain signals from nerves to the centres in the brain. Your peripheral nerves connect the spinal cord to the rest of your body.

What are the types of anaesthesia?

The anaesthesia your healthcare provider uses depends on the type and scope of the procedure. Options include:

  • Local anaesthesia: This treatment numbs a small section of the body. Examples of procedures in which local anaesthesia could be used include cataract surgery, a dental procedure or skin biopsy. You’re awake during the procedure.
  • Regional anaesthesia: Regional anaesthesia blocks pain in a larger part of your body, such as a limb or everything below your chest. You are can be conscious during the procedure, or have sedation in addition to the regional anaesthetic. Examples include an epidural to ease the pain of childbirth or during a cesarean section (C-section), a spinal for hip or knee surgery, or an arm block for hand surgery.
  • General anaesthesia: This treatment makes you unconscious and insensitive to pain or other stimuli. General anaesthesia is used for more invasive surgical procedures, or procedures of the head, chest, or abdomen.
  • Sedation: Sedation relaxes you to the point where you will have a more natural sleep, but can be easily aroused or awakened. Light sedation can be prescribed by the person performing your procedure, or together with a regular nurse if they both have the training to provide moderate sedation. Examples of procedures performed with light or moderate sedation include cardiac catheterization and some colonoscopies. Deep sedation is provided by an anaesthesia professional because your breathing may be affected with the stronger anaesthetic medications, but you will be more asleep than with light or moderate sedation. Although you won’t be completely unconscious, you are not as likely to remember the procedure.

How is anaesthesia administered?

Depending on the procedure and type of anaesthesia needed, your healthcare provider may deliver the anaesthesia via:

  • Inhaled gas.
  • Injection, including shots or intravenously (IV).
  • Topical (applied to skin or eyes) liquid, spray or patch.

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