Frequently Asked Questions

Before a surgical procedure it is important that you ask questions to prepare and know what to expect. Below we have provided a list of Frequently Asked Questions, derived from the Lifeline to Modern Medicine website. We encourage you to further explore this website, developed by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, for additional information and educational videos regarding anesthesia.

Any questions or concerns regarding your personal medical history should be discussed directly with your anesthesiologist.

Are there different kinds of anesthesia?

Local Anesthesia: The anesthetic drug is usually injected into the tissue to numb just the specific location of your body requiring minor surgery, for example, on the hand or foot.

Regional Anesthesia: Your anesthesiologist makes an injection near a cluster of nerves to numb the area of your body that requires surgery. You might be awake, or you may be given something to help you relax, sometimes called a sedative. There are several kinds of regional anesthesia. Two of the most frequently used are spinal and epidural anesthesia, which are produced by injections made with great exactness in the appropriate areas of the back. They are frequently preferred for childbirth and prostate surgery.

General anesthesia: You are unconscious and have no awareness or other sensations. There are a number of general anesthetic drugs. Some are gases or vapors inhaled through a breathing mask or tube and others are medications introduced through a vein. During anesthesia, you are carefully monitored, controlled and treated by your anesthesiologist. A breathing tube may be inserted through your mouth and frequently into the windpipe to maintain proper breathing during this period. The length and level of anesthesia is calculated and constantly adjusted with great precision. At the conclusion of surgery, your anesthesiologist will reverse the process and you will regain awareness in the recovery room.

Is anesthesia safe?

Due to advances in patient safety, the risks of anesthesia are very low. Over the past 25 years, anesthesia-related deaths have decreased from two deaths per 10,000 anesthetics administered to one death per 200,000 to 300,000 anesthetics administered.

Certain types of illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity, can increase your anesthesia risks. Even so, anesthesiologists routinely bring even very sick patients through major operations safely.

What are the risks of anesthesia?

All operations and all anesthesia have some risks, and they are dependent upon many factors including the type of surgery and the medical condition of the patient. Fortunately, adverse events are very rare. Your anesthesiologist takes precautions to prevent an accident from occurring.

The specific risks of anesthesia vary with the particular procedure and the condition of the patient. You should ask your anesthesiologist about any risks that may be associated with your anesthesia.

How can I lower my risk of nausea and vomiting after surgery?

Through the development of better anesthetics and nausea prevention medications, the number of patients who experience postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) has decreased. However, patients who are sensitive to narcotics or are prone to motion-sickness tend to be at an increased risk for PONV. Different kinds of nausea prevention medications can be given in combination before and during surgery to reduce PONV. Be sure to let your anesthesiologist know in advance if you are at risk for PONV.

Should I continue to take my medications prior to surgery?

It is important to tell the doctors providing your care what medications you are taking prior to surgery so that they can be involved in making the decisions about stopping or continuing these medications. Some examples of common medications are:

• Aspirin and Plavix are drugs that are used to prevent blood from clotting. They are used to treat patients with certain disorders of the heart and blood vessels. Because of the way aspirin and Plavix work, they can cause increased bleeding when you get a cut or undergo surgery. If you are taking either of these drugs, you should talk to your primary care physician about stopping them before surgery. The decision to stop aspirin or Plavix is based on the reason why you need to be on the drugs (your medical condition) and on the risk of bleeding from the surgery.

• Diuretics ("water pills") are commonly prescribed for treating high blood pressure. This class of drugs can cause changes to electrolyte levels, such as potassium. If you take diuretics, your anesthesiologist may perform certain laboratory testing before surgery.

• Diabetic patients are commonly treated with insulin or oral agents. Your anesthesiologist may decrease your usual morning insulin dose or discontinue your oral agents before surgery. Always speak with an anesthesiologist or your regular doctor to discuss your particular medications, before any surgical procedure.