Types of Anesthesia

What is anesthesia?

During surgery, your child will be given some form of anesthesia. This is medicine for the relief of pain and sensation during surgery. The type and dosage of anesthesia is managed by the anesthesiologist. When your child is scheduled for surgery, you and your child will meet with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist before the procedure. The anesthesiologist will review your child's medical condition and history to plan the appropriate anesthetic for surgery.

What are the different types of anesthesia?

There are various forms of anesthesia. The type your child will receive will depend on the type of surgery and your child's medical condition. Usually, an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will give your child a sedative to make him or her sleepy. This is in addition to the anesthetic. The different types of anesthesia include the following:

  • Local anesthesia. This is an anesthetic agent given to temporarily stop the sense of pain in a particular area of the body. A patient remains conscious during a local anesthetic. For minor surgery, a local anesthetic can be given via injection to the site. However, when a large area needs to be numbed, or if a local anesthetic injection will not go deep enough, regional anesthetics may be used.

  • Regional anesthesia. Regional anesthesia is used to numb only the part of the body undergoing the procedure. Usually, an injection of local anesthetic is given in the area of nerves that provide feeling to that part of the body. There are several forms of regional anesthetics, 2 of which are described below:

    • Spinal anesthetic. A spinal anesthetic is used for lower belly, pelvic, rectal, or leg surgery. This type of anesthetic involves injecting a single dose of the anesthetic medicine into the subarachnoid space. This space surrounds the spinal cord. The injection is made into the lower back, below the end of the spinal cord, and causes numbness in the lower body. In uncommon situations, continuous spinal anesthesia may be used for a prolonged procedure. A thin catheter (hollow tube) is left in place in the subarachnoid space for additional injections of the anesthetic agent. This ensures numbness during the length of the procedure.

    • Epidural anesthetic. The epidural anesthetic is similar to a spinal anesthetic and is commonly used for surgery of the lower limbs and during labor and childbirth. This type of anesthesia involves continually infusing an anesthetic medicine through a thin catheter (hollow tube). The catheter is placed into the space that surrounds the spinal cord in the lower back (just outside the subarachnoid space). This causes numbness in the lower body. Epidural anesthesia may also be used for chest surgery. In this case, the anesthetic medicine is injected at a higher location in the back to numb the chest and belly.

  • General anesthesia. General anesthesia is used to make your child sleep through surgery. The medicine is either inhaled through a breathing mask or tube, or given through an intravenous line (a thin plastic tube inserted into a vein). A breathing tube may be inserted into the windpipe to maintain proper breathing during surgery. Once the surgery is complete, the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist stops the anesthetic and the child wakes up in the recovery room.  

Once the surgery is complete, the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist stops the anesthetic, the medicine wears off, and the child gradually wakes up in the operating room. Complete recovery from anesthesia continues in the recovery room, usually for an hour or two. Expect your child to be sleepy and to doze off often. Some children become very excited and confused when awakening from anesthesia. This reaction can be disturbing, but usually lasts only a brief time.