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General Anesthesia - Facts, Advantages, and Side Effects

Written by
Dr. Sneha Kannan
and medically reviewed by Dr. Balaramareddy

Published on Nov 23, 2019   -  4 min read



It is natural to be anxious about getting a surgery done under general anesthesia, as you will be in a state of a medically-induced coma. Read the article to know the uses, possible side effects, and what to expect when you are administered general anesthesia


The use of certain drugs to achieve reversible coma or loss of consciousness, long enough for surgeons to operate, is called general anesthesia. How these drugs produce their effect is still not understood properly. Here, the patient is not put to sleep, but they are in a state of medically induced coma.

These drugs when inhaled or administered through the veins, make the patient unresponsive and unconscious. When under the effect of general anesthesia, the patient will not be able to feel pain and might also temporary memory loss. Anesthetic drugs are administered only by an anesthesiologist, and he or she also monitors the patient's vital signs and breathing throughout the procedure.

In 1842, Crawford Long used Diethyl ether to perform the first painless surgery, and since then, general anesthetics are being widely used.

Fast Facts:

  1. An anesthesiologist or anesthetist administers general anesthetic before major surgery.

  2. GA are relatively safe when administered correctly.

  3. Some of the common side effects include nausea and dizziness.

  4. Sometimes, the patient might come out of the effects of anesthesia in the middle of the procedure.

  5. The mechanism of action of general anesthesia is only partly understood.

Why Is General Anesthesia Administered?

The type of anesthesia used is decided based on the type of surgery, overall health, and the patient’s choice. Surgeries that might include the following factors are usually done under general anesthesia:

What Are the Advantages of General Anesthesia?

The advantages of using general anesthesia are:

  • It reduces how much the patient can recall about the surgery.

  • It allows the use of muscle relaxants.

  • It lets the doctor be control of breathing and circulation.

  • The dosage can be easily altered in case the surgery runs longer than expected.

  • It can be used in patients who are allergic to local anesthetic agents.

What Are the Side Effects of General Anesthesia?

Even though there are many possible side effects of general anesthesia, it is relatively safe if administered properly. The following are the common side effects:

The side effects that occur immediately or shortly after administering the anesthetic are:

  • Nausea and vomiting - Most patients feel nauseated up to a couple of days, which can be treated using anti-nausea medicines.

  • Hoarseness of voice - Before surgery, a tube is inserted in your throat to help you breathe. This tube when removed makes your throat sore and voice hoarse.

  • Dry mouth - As patients wake up from the effects of GA, their mouth feels dry and parched. Keep sipping water.

  • Chills - Hypothermia (drop in body temperature) is a common side effect of general anesthesia. This might last for a couple of hours after surgery.

  • Confusion - The effects of the anesthesia makes the patient feel confused and drowsy. This goes away in a few hours usually.

  • Difficulty passing urine - This might last for some time.

  • Dizziness - Patients feel dizzy when they try to stand up, and drinking water helps with this.

  • Muscle pain - Muscle relaxants used during surgery makes the muscle sore and painful after surgery.

  • Itching - If the doctor administered opioid medications during or after your surgery, you might feel itchy, as it is a common side effect of this class of drugs.

If you are lucky, you will not experience the long-term side effects of general anesthesia. But some patients who are at risk, experience the following side effects:

  • Postoperative delirium - Mental confusion lasts for only a few hours for most patients. But in some, it might last for up to a week.

  • Postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) - In some patients with a history of a stroke, heart problem, or lung disease, memory problems and cognitive impairment are seen for a longer time.

What Are the Factors That Increase the Risk of Side Effects?

In most cases, general anesthesia is much safer than the surgery itself. But for certain patients with the following risk factors, the chances of side effects from general anesthesia increase:

  • Previous adverse reaction to anesthesia.

  • Sleep apnea.

  • Seizures.

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).

  • Diabetes.

  • Kidney disease.

  • Drug allergies.

  • Obesity.

  • Heart problems.

  • Lung disease.

  • Smoking.

  • Alcoholism.

  • Taking blood thinners.

Anesthesia Awareness:

In very rare cases, patients become aware of what is going on during the operation. Almost 1 in every 1,000 people regain consciousness, but cannot move, talk, or talk to their doctor. The patient normally does not feel pain, but it can result in long-term psychological problems like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For more information on general anesthesia, consult an anesthesiologist online.

Last reviewed at:
23 Nov 2019  -  4 min read




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