What is anaesthesia exactly?
Anaesthesia means “loss of feeling”, and is the general term for any type of anaesthetic procedure that allows pain-free surgery. It involves the use of injections with a precisely composed and dosed combination of drugs.
For the entire body
The purpose of anaesthesia is to induce a sleep-like state, allowing otherwise painful procedures to be performed. You will be given a sedative in your room prior to surgery. Anaesthesia will then be initiated in the operating theatre with an infusion into a vein on the forearm or hand. It may also be initiated with an anaesthetic gas.
The drugs used are usually a combination of sleep-inducing and pain-killing drugs and muscle relaxants.
To ensure patients have an optimum supply of oxygen, they are attached to a ventilator during general anaesthesia. This is done using either a thin tube placed in front of the larynx or into the windpipe or a breathing mask. Patients are not aware of any of these procedures as they are asleep.
Relief from pain where needed
With many operations there is the option to numb only the part of the body undergoing surgery. In more major surgical procedures, local anaesthesia may also be combined with general anaesthesia. This allows better pain management following surgery.
Different methods of administering local anaesthesia are available depending on the operation to be performed. Local anaesthetics are administered either in the back (local anaesthesia close to the spinal cord in epidural anaesthesia, spinal anaesthesia) or at other sites on the body (peripheral local anaesthesia). Such injections cause little pain as the injection site is numbed beforehand.
Local anaesthesia close to the spinal cord
In spinal anaesthesia, this involves injection of the drug into the spinal cord fluid surrounding the nerves under the spinal cord. In epidural anaesthesia, the anaesthetic is injected into the space between the spinal meninges and the spinal canal. It involves the insertion of a very fine tube through which pain-reducing agents can be administered after surgery. Both methods render the affected areas pain-free, numb and completely or partially immobile for a predetermined time.
Epidural anaesthesia is used to alleviate pain in women during childbirth.
Peripheral local anaesthesia
This is used in more localised areas such as the shoulder or arm. When administering local anaesthesia, we often employ a device that causes mild twitching in the affected body part, telling us where best to administer the injection. A thin tube can also be inserted in peripheral local anaesthesia to allow better pain management following surgery.