How Does Anesthesia Work?

Category: Spine Surgery | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

anesthesiaAnesthesia is a routine aspect of many surgical procedures. It is used to “put the patient to sleep” so they don’t feel any pain or experience the surgery in a conscious state. Here we will provide a brief overview of the types of anesthesia and how each works.

Types of Anesthesia

There are two basic types of anesthesia – general and local:

  • General Anesthesia involves using anesthetic agents to knock a patient completely unconscious for the duration of a surgical procedure.
  • Local Anesthesia is used to numb a particular area of the body (such as a leg or hand) for the duration of a procedure. This is used for less intensive surgeries that do not necessitate the patient being completely knocked out.

The type of anesthesia used depends heavily on the procedure performed. Be sure to talk to your surgeon prior to the procedure about what type of anesthesia will be used.

How it Works

Anesthesia is administered by an anesthesiologist – a doctor trained specifically in the science (some might say art) of anesthesiology. Usually, the anesthesia will be given via injection, but it can also be inhaled. The exact science of how anesthesia works is still not fully understood, but a common theory is that the patient’s consciousness is affected by affecting the central nervous system.


There are 4 stages of anesthesia, listed below:

  1. Induction – The initial stages when the patient gradually begins to lose consciousness.
  2. Excitement – Complete loss of consciousness that may be coupled with an irregular heart rate.
  3. Surgical Anesthesia – Eye movement completely stops and the muscles relax.
  4. Overdose – This occurs when the patient receives too much anesthesia. It can be fatal if not corrected quickly.

It takes a skilled anesthesiologist to find the right balance of anesthesia for each patient without pushing him or her into the overdose stage. During your pre-surgical consultation talk with your doctor about who will be performing the anesthesia.

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