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Having an Anaesthetic



What is an Anaesthetic?

The word Anaesthesia is defined as having “loss of sensation” that means that:-

  • You have temporarily lost the ability for pain receptors to transmit information of painful stimuli.
  •  You have temporarily lost the physical feeling of the skin with the ability to receive information, like hot and cold. 

When you are given an anaesthetic the signals are blocked that normally pass along your nerve pathways. The anaesthetic can be given in a variety of ways and not all of them means that you will be unconscious.

G.A = General anaesthetic.
L.A = Local anaesthetic
R.A = Regional anaesthetic.

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 General anaesthetic

A general anaesthetic is achieved with medications which is either injected into your veins or breathed into the lungs; it is a controlled level of unconsciousness. The medication given to you prevents the brain from recognising the messages it is receiving from your body. When you “wake up” it means that the medicines you have been given are wearing off and you are returning to consciousness, which means you will be able to feel sensations again. You may feel groggy and forgetful for 24hours after a general anaesthetic you should not make any important decisions during this time.

Local Anaesthetic:

A Local anaesthetic is achieved when a small area of nerves have the sensations and pain blocked. This can be done with drops, sprays, ointment or injection you will be told which method is most appropriate for you. You will be conscious but will not feel pain. Occasionally you may feel pulling or pressure but it will not feel sharp.

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Regional Anaesthesia:

 This is achieved by injecting medication which affects larger bundles of nerves creating a larger area of anaesthesia. The sensations are affected and the messages to the brain are temporarily prevented.

Spinals or Epidurals:
These are two examples of regional anaesthetics which are used for anaesthetising   the lower half of your body.

  • Spinal anaesthetics are single injections of local anaesthetic which take a few minutes to work and last for approximately two hours

  • Epidural anaesthetics can take 20-30 minutes to have an effect and can be used to relieve pain for days after your operation.

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Sedation is a medication which is given to you to induce a state of calm and bring about a state of drowsiness. This is useful for you as you often remember very little if anything of the procedure however you are able to co-operate with the healthcare team. This state is known as “conscious sedation” and is also used in Oral/Dentist surgery and Endoscopy units.

Combining Anaesthesia:

Anaesthetic techniques are often combined for patients:-

  • Local anaesthetic and sedation
  • Regional  anaesthetic and sedation
  • Regional  anaesthetic and general anaesthetic – for pain relief after your operation
If you are going to be having a regional or local anaesthetic, you may like to discuss with the Anaesthetist if you are able to have sedation as well.

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Steps to help yourself

Prior to going into hospital for your operation:-

    1. If you are a smoker this is an excellent opportunity for you to give up there are many initiatives which your GP can help you with.- Giving up helps reduce risks of having problems with your breathing after your operation.
    2. If you are overweight –it is a good idea to reduce your weight as you run higher anaesthetic risks.  Lying flat and breathing against the weight of fat on the chest and abdomen makes the anaesthetic more complicated.
    3. If you regularly consume more than average quantities of alcohol it is advisable to reduce those levels as higher levels of anaesthetic medications will otherwise be required.
    4. If you are a “substance user” you will need to inform the anaesthetist which substances you are using so that your anaesthetic is able to adapt the medications which they will use. Seeking assistance from your GP is advisable
    5. If you have loose, capped or crowned teeth it may be a good idea to pay a visit to your dentist for treatment to reduce the risk if the anaesthetist needs to put a breathing tube into your throat.
    6. If you have existing medical problems it would be a good idea to see your GP to check your overall general fitness to prevent problems on admission.
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Information your anaesthetist needs to know from you?

Your Anaesthetist is a qualified doctor who is looking after you, and during an operation you are their responsibility, therefore they will need to know specific things about you so they can plan for your operation.

They will need to know:-

  • If you have had an anaesthetic before?
  • If you or a member of your family had any adverse reactions to an anaesthetic before?
  • Do you have any allergies or allergies to medication?
  • If you are taking medication what it is and how much you take(it is a good idea to bring them with you so you can show the Doctors)
  • If you take any herbal preparations or vitamins?
  • If you exceed the average weekly alcohol consumption.
    1. 21 units a week for men
    2. 14 units a week for women
  • If you use illegal or over use/are addicted to legal medication.
  • If you have any long standing medical problems i.e. thyroid, epilepsy
  • If you are possibly pregnant
  • Are you an asthmatic? Do you take medication for it
  • Do you have any problems with you teeth do you wear dentures or have any caps or crowns.

When you meet with your anaesthetist they will discuss with you all the items mentioned and then evaluate which types of anaesthetic that can be used, they will talk of the benefits of a particular anaesthetic and decide with you which would be best for your type of operation.

They will also discuss with you how you will feel after the operation and which pain relief will be available to you. If you are worried about being sick afterwards they will prescribe you a medicine to prevent this happening.

Click here for further information on pain relief

Pre-medications or pre-med:

If you are anxious or if the Anaesthetist thinks it is appropriate you may well have a “pre-med” this is just a sedative medicine which will make you feel more relaxed and a little drowsy. The sedative will usually be given as tablets or occasionally as an intramuscular injection.

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Anaesthetic risk:

This is one of those things where you weigh up the good that will be done with having your operation as apposed to the possible complications.
The risks involved with having an anaesthetic can range from feeling sick and having teeth damaged up to nerve damage and death.

Your Anaesthetist will discuss the risks involved with your care and will give you the facts regarding your particular risks. If you are in poor health already your risks may well be higher, in which case a general anaesthetic may not be your best choice and a regional anaesthetic may be a better option. You will be given all the information so you can make your decision.

If you feel you need further advice and guidance talk to more of the staff, your GP, the surgeon who will be doing the operation? Make sure you are happy you have made the best decision for you.

No-one will make you have an operation or anaesthetic if you do not choose to; you are able to refuse treatment at any stage.

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