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Exploring the different types of anesthesia

Last Modified: October 27, 2021

Family Medicine


Any medical procedure can be nerve-racking, but the thought of anesthesia often rustles up a whirlwind of emotions for those apprehensive about being sedated. We connected with Blakely Stevenson, MD, PPG – Anesthesiology, to learn more about the different kinds of anesthesia and what patients can expect with this branch of medicine in hopes of relieving any anesthetic anxiety.

What is anesthesia? 

Anesthesia is a state of controlled and temporary loss of sensation, awareness or consciousness that is induced for medical purposes. It has three principal components, which include:

  • analgesia (pain control)
  • amnesia (inability to remember)
  • akinesia (loss of movement)
Who administers anesthesia before a procedure? 

Anesthesiology is a practice of medicine. At Parkview, all anesthesia services are directly administered by an anesthesiologist or under their direct supervision. For example, our advanced practice providers and physician extenders can administer anesthesia as long as a board-certified attending anesthesiologist is present to offer guidance and medical direction. 

Are there different types of anesthesia? 

Anesthesia can take many different forms. Let’s take a look at the four main categories:

  • Monitored anesthesia care (MAC): This is the “twilight sleep” many people experience for simple procedures such as colonoscopies or carpal tunnel release surgery. It usually involves the administration of one or two agents through an IV.
  • Sedation: Similar to MAC, sedation usually involves more medications and a deeper overall plain of relaxation that takes longer to wake up from.
  • Regional anesthesia: This form of anesthesia involves using a local anesthetic to directly numb nerves for pain control. This can include epidurals for lung surgery or labor or spinal anesthesia for knee replacements and C-sections. Many utilize regional anesthesia for orthopedic cases involving shoulder, knee or ankle surgery.
  • General anesthesia (GA): This is the deepest level of anesthesia and involves total unconsciousness, amnesia and akinesia. For this reason, in nearly every case, we must place either a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) or other airway assist device to maintain a patient’s breathing while under anesthesia. These devices are placed after a patient goes to sleep and removed before they wake up. 
How are they administered? 

In most cases, anesthesia can be given through an IV or breathed through a mask, airway assist device or breathing tube. 

Is there anything patients can do to prepare for anesthesia?

Yes, absolutely. We ask all patients to pay close attention to their preoperative guidelines regarding when to stop eating and drinking before a procedure. Patients must notify their anesthesiologist if they have had any adverse reactions to anesthesia in the past or if they have a family history of these kinds of responses. It’s also vital that the anesthesiologist knows of any allergies or if the patient is on blood thinners to prepare for the use and possibility of a regional nerve block.

What can patients expect after the use of anesthesia? 

It’s normal to feel groggy or sleepy after anesthesia. Nausea is not unusual, but most patients don’t typically have a problem with it. Modern anesthesia is very self-limiting and works its way out of your system within several hours. 

What advice can you offer someone who might be nervous about anesthesia? 

If you have questions or concerns about your anesthesia, please address them with your anesthesiologist. We are physicians who have trained for many years to provide you with the best and safest anesthesia possible while under our care. We take our responsibilities very seriously and are passionate about protecting you and creating the best possible surgical outcome for our patients. You may not always remember us because the nature of our work directly interferes with memory, but I assure you, we are there for you. We are always in the room, monitoring you while you sleep, ensuring your safety. That’s our job as anesthesiologists: We guard you while you sleep. It’s what we do.

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