General anesthesia is the use of medicines to make you go to sleep (be unconscious) for a medical procedure. The medicines cause a deep sleep in which you do not feel pain and have no memory of what is happening.

General anesthesia is done by a health care provider with training in giving anesthesia (anesthesia specialist). It is often recommended when a procedure:

  • Is long.
  • Requires you to be still or in an unusual position.
  • Is major and can cause you to lose blood.
  • Is impossible to do without general anesthesia.

The medicines used for general anesthesia are called general anesthetics. During general anesthesia, these medicines are given along with medicines that:

  • Prevent pain.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Relax your muscles.

What are the benefits of general anesthesia?

This type of anesthesia:

  • Makes it possible to have procedures that would be too painful or stressful to have while awake. This is the main benefit.
  • Allows your health care provider to control your breathing and your blood pressure. This can prevent problems during the procedure.
  • Can be given quickly in an emergency.
  • Can be reversed quickly when a procedure is over.
  • Can be continued for a long period of time.

What are the risks of general anesthesia?

Risks of general anesthesia include:

  • Allergic reaction to the medicines.
  • Heart or lung problems.
  • Severe agitation that requires additional medicine.
  • Inhaling food or liquids from your stomach into your lungs (aspiration).
  • Injury to nerves.
  • Dental injury.
  • Stroke.
  • Awareness during surgery and being unable to move (rare).

General anesthesia can cause side effects after you wake up. Side effects are common, but serious reactions are rare. Common side effects include:

  • Confusion.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Shivering.
  • Sore throat.
  • Tiredness.

Summary

  • General anesthesia is the use of medicines to make a person go to sleep (be unconscious) for a medical procedure.
  • General anesthesia makes it possible to have medical procedures that would be too painful and stressful to have while awake.
  • Side effects are common, but serious reactions are rare.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.