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As Many as 40 Million Patients Undergo Anesthesia Every Year for Surgeries and Other Medical Procedures. An Alpharetta Medical Malpractice Attorney Explains Some of the Most Common Types of Anesthesia

Anesthesia can be provided to the entire body or any part of it. The basic types of anesthesia include general anesthesia, sedation anesthesia, spinal anesthesia, epidural anesthesia, and local anesthesia.

General anesthesia: This technique renders the patient unconscious so the patient does not see, feel, or hear anything during the surgical procedure. The anesthetic medications are given through an intravenous (IV) line or as a breathing gas. The state of decreased consciousness achieved reduces, or eliminates completely, any observed response to painful stimulus, such as an incision. The blocked responses include both muscle movements and reactions of the so-called autonomic nervous system (heart rate, breathing, and sweating). Paralyzing drugs are often added to make sure that muscles do not naturally contract (neuromuscular blockade). The use of paralytic medication requires that the patient be intubated (an artificial airway is inserted) and ventilated (a mechanical ventilator delivers oxygen and/or anesthetic drugs to the lungs). In some cases, additional pain-killing medications are administered.

Sedation anesthesia: This technique induces a mild, moderate or deep sleep without the assistance of a ventilator. Patients are more responsive to painful stimuli, able to breathe on their own, and it has less of an effect on the heart and blood pressure. This process, often called monitored anesthesia care (MAC) or conscious sedation, requires administering intravenous anesthetic drugs and oxygen by mask or nasal cannula. Because it requires lower doses of anesthetic drugs than general anesthesia, the recovery time tends to be shorter. However, since there is no fixed dose of anesthetic agent that produces a particular effect in all patients, the anesthesiologist must be prepared to provide support for the airway (such as a breathing tube), breathing (mechanical ventilator), and the heart and blood pressure (such as resuscitation drugs).

Regional Anesthesia: In this form of anesthesia requires injecting medication to numb the nerves that supply sensation to the operated-on body part. This technique relies upon the anesthetic drug being placed in exactly the right part of the body, close to the nerve or bundle of nerves, or spinal cord. If good positioning is not achieved, regional anesthesia will not work well or at all. General anesthesia may then be necessary. Other problems that can occur include temporary or permanent nerve injury, headache, backache, infection, toxic reaction to the medication, or acute allergic reaction.

Spinal anesthesia: This is a form of regional anesthesia to numb the nerves of the part of the body that is being operated upon. A special needle is inserted into the lower part of the back between the vertebra and anesthetic medication is injected directly into the spinal fluid surrounding the spinal cord. The needle is removed and the medication bathes the spinal nerves and pain is not felt. Often there is an attendant temporary loss of motor function so the patient may not be able to move part of the body. As the medication wears off, the affected parts of the body recover sensation and movement.

Epidural Anesthesia: Epidural anesthesia is a form of regional anesthesia in which a narrow tube or catheter is placed just outside of the spinal canal and medication is injected to numb the spinal nerves. Infusion of the medication can be maintained over fairly long periods of time, allowing anesthesia during an operation and for a day or two afterward for pain control.

Local Anesthesia: This technique uses a local anesthetic agent directly at the surgical site. It can be injected or applied to the skin. Often a drug like epinephrine is administered so the blood flow to the area is reduced, thereby reducing blood loss and allowing the numbing medication to remain in effect in the area for a longer time.

Because of its very nature, anesthesia is inherently risky.  If you or a loved one has suffered harm as a result of an error involving anesthesia, please contact our office for a confidential, no-charge consultation with one of our experienced Georgia medical malpractice attorneys.