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Anesthesia

Surgical Patients: What You Can Expect From Anesthesia

  1. What is an anesthesiologist?
  2. What is the "anesthesia care team"?
  3. How will my condition be assessed before anesthesia?
  4. Can I eat or drink before my anesthesia?
  5. Should I take my usual medicines?
  6. What will happen before my surgery?
  7. What Types of Anesthesia are Used?
  8. What can I expect after the operation until I go home?
  9. Will I have any side effects?
  10. When will I be able to go home?

Before Surgery

What is an anesthesiologist?

An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor with additional training in anesthesiology, which is the practice of medicine dedicated to the relief of pain and total care of the surgical patient before, during and after surgery. Anesthesiologists' training involves a three to four-year residency after the completion of an internship program. Your anesthesiologist leads the anesthesia care team to monitor and manage your vital body functions during your surgery and is responsible for your comfort and well-being.

What is the "anesthesia care team"?

The anesthesia care team is led by your anesthesiologist and may include other highly trained anesthesia care providers.

  1. Anesthesia residents are doctors training to become anesthesiologists.
  2. Nurse anesthetists, or CRNAs, are registered nurses with special training in anesthesia.
  3. Anesthesia assistants (AAs) are also trained in a graduate level anesthesia program.

A member of your anesthesia team will be with you throughout your procedure.

How will my condition be assessed before anesthesia?

Your condition must be assessed before you undergo anesthesia, so an anesthesiologist will always interview you beforehand. There are a variety of other methods to obtain needed medical information, depending on your health status and on the procedure you will undergo.

In some cases, you may be telephoned at home to obtain information as well as to be given information and instructions. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your previous anesthetic experiences and medical conditions, allergies, medications or herbals. In other cases, a visit to the hospital, ahead of the surgery date, may be necessary.

Preoperative Reminders

Can I eat or drink before my anesthesia?

As a general rule, you should not eat or drink anything after midnight before your surgery. Under some circumstances, you may be given permission to drink clear liquids up to a few hours before your anesthesia. If your procedure is scheduled late in the day you may be permitted a light meal in the early morning. The same rules apply to children. You should always receive written or verbal instructions and call your doctor or the hospital if in doubt. If you smoke, please refrain.

Should I take my usual medicines?

Some medications should be taken, others are restricted. It is important to discuss this with your anesthesiologist or your surgeon. Do not interrupt medications unless your anesthesiologist or surgeon recommends it.

These instructions are important for your safety. If you do not follow instructions about not eating or drinking before your surgery, your surgery may be delayed or even cancelled.

Day of Surgery

What will happen before my surgery?

You will meet your anesthesiologist, and other members of the anesthesia care team, before you go into the operating room. The anesthesiologist will examine you, and review your medical and anesthesia history and the results of any laboratory tests. The anesthesiologist will explain to you the type of anesthesia you will undergo, and will answer any further questions you may have.

Nurses will record your vital signs, and your surgeon or an associate will visit with you, completing any evaluations or paperwork. Intravenous fluids will usually be started and preoperative medications given, if needed. Once in the operating room, monitoring devices will be attached such as a blood pressure cuff, EKG and other devices for your safety. At this point, you will be ready for anesthesia.

What Types of Anesthesia are Used?

There are several types of anesthetic techniques used for surgical patients, ranging from local anesthesia to general anesthesia. The anesthetic technique selected will depend on several factors. The surgical procedure will in some cases dictate what kind of anesthesia will be needed. Based on your medical history a type of anesthetic may have an additional margin of safety and be selected. Your preferences also will be incorporated in the selection of best anesthetic plan for your procedure.

There are four anesthetic options:

Recovery from Anesthesia and Surgery

What can I expect after the operation until I go home?

After surgery, you will be taken from the operating room to another area, often called the "recovery room", or post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). Your anesthesiologist will direct the monitoring and medications needed for your safe recovery. For about the first 30 minutes, you will be watched closely by specially trained nurses.

After certain kinds of major surgery, such as heart surgery, you may be taken from the operating room to the intensive care unit for recovery. In these cases you may remain connected to various monitors and life support systems for a time. Your surgeon and anesthesiologist will discuss this with you.

After the initial recovery period, you may then be moved to another area where you will continue to recover and family or friends may be allowed to be with you. Here you will be offered something to drink and you will be assisted in getting up.

Will I have any side effects?

The amount of discomfort you experience will depend on a number of factors, especially the type of surgery. Your doctors and nurses can relieve pain after your surgery with medicines by mouth or injection or by numbing the area around the incision. Your discomfort should be tolerable, but do not expect to be totally pain-free. Nausea or vomiting may be related to anesthesia, the type of surgical procedure or postoperative pain medications. Although less of a problem today because of improved anesthetic agents and techniques, these side effects continue to occur for some patients.

When will I be able to go home?

This will depend on the type of surgery and the anesthesia used. Most patients who have had outpatient surgery are ready to go home between 1-4 hours after surgery. Your anesthesiologist will be able to give you a more specific time estimate.

Click here for special information about outpatient surgery.

Your Rights as a Patient

You should be given an opportunity to speak to those involved in your anesthesia care. All questions involving how the anesthesia will be administered and the training and qualifications of those providing your anesthesia should be answered fully. The professionals caring for you should treat you ethically and respect your privacy and dignity. If you feel uncomfortable about any aspect of your care you have the right to refuse the planned treatment.

Final Thoughts

Please ask questions! Your experience will be easier if you know what usually happens and what you should expect. Remember, the focus of anesthesia is on you, the patient.

Adapted for NetWellness with Permission - University Anesthesiologists, Inc.

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Last Reviewed: Oct 05, 2010

Gareth S Kantor, MD Gareth S Kantor, MD
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University