Types of anesthesia

What is anesthesia?

During surgery, your child will be given some form of anesthesia - medication administered for the relief of pain and sensation during surgery. The type and dosage of anesthesia is administered by the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist. When your child is scheduled for surgery, you and your child will meet with the anesthesiologist before the procedure. The anesthesiologist will review your child's medical condition and history to plan the appropriate anesthetic for surgery.

What are the different types of anesthesia?

There are various forms of anesthesia. The type of anesthesia your child will receive will depend on the type of surgery and your child's medical condition. Usually, an anesthesiologist will administer a sedative to make your child sleepy, in addition to the anesthetic. The different types of anesthesia include the following:

  • Local anesthesia
    Local anesthesia is medication given to temporarily stop the sensation in a particular area of the body. Your child remains conscious during a local anesthetic. For minor surgery, a local anesthetic can be administered via injection. However, when a large area needs to be numbed, or if a local anesthetic injection will not penetrate deep enough, your child's physician may use regional anesthetics.
  • Regional anesthesia
    Regional anesthesia means numbing only the portion of the body which will be operated on. Usually an injection of local anesthetic is given in the area of nerves that provide feeling to that part of the body. There are several forms of regional anesthetics, two of which are described below:
    • Spinal anesthetic
      A spinal anesthetic is often used for lower abdominal, pelvic, rectal, or lower extremity surgery. This type of anesthetic involves injecting a single dose of the anesthetic agent directly into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord in the lower back, causing numbness in the lower body.
    • Epidural anesthetic
      This anesthetic is similar to a spinal anesthetic and also is commonly used for surgery of the lower limbs and during labor and childbirth. This type of anesthesia involves continually infusing medication through a thin catheter that has been placed into the epidural space of the spinal column in the lower back, causing numbness in the lower body.
  • General anesthesia
    General anesthesia causes a patient to be unconscious during surgery. The medication is either inhaled through a breathing mask or tube, or administered through an intravenous (IV) line - a thin plastic tube inserted into a vein. A breathing tube may be inserted into the windpipe to maintain proper breathing during surgery.
Once the surgery is complete, the anesthesiologist stops the anesthetic, the medication wears off, and the patient gradually wakes up in the operating room. Complete recovery from anesthesia continues in the recovery room. Expect your child to be sleepy and to doze off often. Some children become very excited and confused when awakening from anesthesia. This reaction can be disturbing, but usually lasts only a brief time.