General anesthesia

General anesthesia affects your entire body and renders you unconscious. Under anesthesia, you should be completely unaware and not feel pain during the surgery or procedure. General anesthesia also causes forgetfulness (amnesia) and relaxation of the muscles throughout your body.

General anesthesia suppresses many of your body’s normal automatic functions, such as those that control breathing, heartbeat, circulation of the blood (such as blood pressure), movements of the digestive system, and throat reflexes such as swallowing, coughing, or gagging that prevent foreign material from being inhaled into your lungs (aspiration).

Because these functions are suppressed, an anesthesia specialist must carefully maintain a balance of medications while monitoring your heart, breathing, blood pressure, and other vital functions. An endotracheal (ET) tube or a laryngeal mask airway is usually used to give you an inhalant anesthetic and oxygen, and to control and assist your breathing. An ET tube is used to prevent aspiration.

General anesthesia is commonly begun (induced) with intravenous (IV) anesthetics, but inhalation agents also may be used. After you are unconscious, anesthesia may be maintained with an inhalant anesthetic alone, with a combination of intravenous anesthetics, or a combination of inhalant and intravenous anesthetics.

Last Updated: January 28, 2010

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