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Frequently Asked Questions about General Anesthesia

General anesthetics work to provide pain relief, give the patient amnesia (memory loss) of the procedure, reduce anxiety, and paralyze the muscles in order to weaken involuntary responses during surgery.

Surprisingly, patients are sometimes more anxious about undergoing general anesthesia than they are about undergoing surgery. At Columbus Institute of Plastic Surgery, it is our goal to ensure that you are comfortable and at ease about every aspect of your procedure. Here are some frequently asked questions about general anesthesia:

What exactly is anesthesia, and what does it actually do to your body?

Anesthesia is the state of being completely unconscious and immobilized, and it is induced by a drug administered via inhalation or intravenous sedation. You will not feel or remember anything that happens once it begins to work in your system. Because general anesthetics relax the muscles that are essential for breathing, you will be wearing a breathing mask or breathing tube once it is administered.

There are four stages involved with general anesthesia. During the induction stage, the medication is administered and the patient will begin to feel its effects. A stage of excitement then occurs once the patient has fallen unconscious. The breathing patterns and heart rate may become irregular and the patient may twitch. This is a relatively quick stage that occurs before stage three when the patient is completely anesthetized. During this stage, breathing returns to a normal pattern, the muscles relax, and the surgeon is able to safely operate.

Stage four is not a part of the normal anesthesia process, and occurs when the patient receives an overdose of drugs. This can lead to brain damage, heart or breathing irregularity or stoppage, or even death if not addressed immediately.

Our board-certified anesthesiologist, Dr. Gretchen Hollingsworth, diligently monitors each patient during anesthesia to ensure optimal safety. Very close attention is paid to the following:

  • pulse oximetry (oxygen level in the blood)
  • heart rate
  • blood pressure
  • respiratory rate
  • carbon dioxide exhalation levels
  • the concentration of the anesthetic and brain activity

How long do the effects of general anesthesia last after surgery?

General anesthetics often cause dehydration, which is countered with warm IV fluids administered after surgery. Vomiting, nausea, numbness of the operated area, and a disoriented feeling may occur following general anesthesia. These reactions should not last longer than 48 hours after surgery as the medication should be completely out of the system within that time.

What are the odds that you would wake up from general anesthesia during surgery?

The incidence of being awake while under general anesthesia is rare. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, anesthetic awareness happens in about 1 or 2 cases out of every 1,000. Brain monitors can reduce the risk by more than 80 percent. Surgeries that are more susceptible to awareness include cardiac and obstetric operations and acute trauma surgery.

Many factors, including body mass index, age, existing diseases (especially diabetes or cancer), medications and herbal supplements you take, and the type of surgery you are receiving, influence your risk of awareness or other complications during general anesthesia. This is why it is so important to communicate your health history during a consultation.

The safety and comfort of our patients are a top priority at our practice. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your desired procedure or the anesthesia involved, feel free to contact Dr. Shah at Columbus Institute of Plastic Surgery by calling (614) 482-2123 to schedule a consultation.