General Anesthesia

While there are many types and levels of anesthesia — medication to keep you from feeling pain during surgery — general anesthesia is most commonly used for major operations, such as knee and hip replacements, heart surgeries, and many types of surgical procedures to treat cancer. Many of these surgeries are lifesaving or life-changing and would not be possible without general anesthesia.

How does general anesthesia work?

General anesthesia is medicine that is administered by an anesthesiologist, a medical doctor, through a mask or an IV placed in the vein. While the anesthesia is working, you will be unconscious, and many of your body’s functions will slow down or need help to work effectively. A tube may be placed in your throat to help you breathe. During surgery or the procedure, the anesthesiologist will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and other vital signs to make sure they are normal and steady while you remain unconscious and free of pain.

During surgery, the anesthesiologist will monitor your vital signs to make sure they are normal and steady while you remain unconscious and free of pain.

Once your surgery is complete, your anesthesiologist will reverse the medication and be with you as you return to consciousness, continually monitoring your breathing, circulation, and oxygen levels. Some patients feel fine as they wake up; others experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or chills. Your throat may be sore from the breathing tube. Your anesthesiologist will help you manage these symptoms.

Male anesthesiologist with monitor in operation room

Because you’ve had major surgery, you probably will have pain and discomfort from the procedure as you recover, which might get worse as the effects of the general anesthesia wear off. Your anesthesiologist will advise you about how to manage your pain during recovery in the hospital and at home.

If you are able to go home the day of surgery, you will not be able to drive after having general anesthesia — so make sure someone can take you home. It may take a day or two for the anesthesia medication to completely leave your system, so you may be sleepy, and your reflexes and judgment may be affected.