If you’re having surgery, you probably know that you’ll receive some type of anesthesia to keep you from feeling pain during the procedure. Depending on the type of anesthesia you have — local anesthetic, general anesthesia, or anything in between — you may need to factor in some anesthesia recovery time.

What should you expect if you have general anesthesia?

If you’re having general anesthesia, an anesthesiologist will give you medications that make you lose consciousness. After the surgery is complete, he or she will reverse the medication so that you regain consciousness — but you won’t be wide awake right away. You will probably be moved to a recovery room where your anesthesiologist will continue to monitor your breathing and heart function. Some people feel sleepy but otherwise fine as the anesthesia wears off; others have side effects such as nausea or chills, and sometimes vomiting. Your throat may be sore from a tube that helped you breathe during surgery. If you experience any of these side effects, the anesthesiologist will provide medications to make you feel better.

Depending on the type of surgery you had, you will likely either be able to go home or to a regular hospital room within a few hours. Wherever you continue your recovery, your anesthesiologist will monitor your recovery and your need for pain medication. If you had a major surgery, your pain may get worse as the general anesthesia wears off.

Your anesthesiologist will monitor your recovery and your need for pain medication.

If you don’t stay overnight, you will need someone to take you home because you won’t be able to drive or take public transportation by yourself. It’s best to have someone with you for at least the first 24 hours after general anesthesia. You may continue to be sleepy, and your judgment and reflexes may take time to return to normal. If you are taking opioids for pain, you won’t be able to drive until you stop taking them.

What about other types of anesthesia?

Your surgery might not require general anesthesia, but you might need sedation to be comfortable during the procedure. The effects of sedation, also called twilight sedation and monitored anesthesia care, can include being sleepy but awake and able to talk, or being asleep and unaware of your surroundings. The recovery from sedation is similar to that of general anesthesia, but patients usually wake up quicker and their recovery time is shorter. As with general anesthesia, you won’t be able to drive and should probably have someone stay with you for at least the first several hours after you return home.

Another type of anesthesia is called regional anesthesia, which numbs a large part of the body such as from the waist down. This is the type of pain control often used by women in labor and delivery. People recovering from this type of anesthesia sometimes experience headaches as they recover.

What if you only have local anesthetic?

If your surgery requires only local anesthetic, you will be given an injection of a medication that numbs the small area where your procedure is being performed. You will be awake and alert and won’t need time to recover from the anesthesia. You can go home as soon as you feel well enough. You won’t be restricted from driving or other activities unless you’re taking opioids for pain or your surgery makes these activities difficult.



Female nurse looking at child patient.

Anesthesiologists work with your surgical team to evaluate, monitor, and supervise your care before, during, and after surgery—delivering anesthesia, leading the Anesthesia Care Team, and ensuring your optimal safety.