If you have a private operation planned, it may involve an anaesthetic procedure, in this instance a general anaesthetic. You may wish to know what this involves.
The information here is a guide to common medical practice. Each hospital and doctor will have slightly different ways of doing things when administering a general anaesthetic, so you should follow their guidance where it is different from the information given here. Because all patients, conditions and treatments vary it cannot cover everything. Use this information when making your treatment choices with your doctors. You should mention any worries you have. Remember that you can ask for more information at any time.
What is a general anaesthetic?
A general anaesthetic, or GA for short, is the use of drugs that cause you to become unconscious. It is often the most suitable way of keeping you safe and comfortable for an operation. You are unaware of what is happening during your operation. The general anaesthetic may be given in two ways. Medications can be given through a drip, usually in your arm or hand. Alternatively you can breath gases through a mask. Either way, the anaesthetic is continued until the operation is complete. Once the operation is finished the anaesthetic is ended and you regain consciousness. You are taken to a recovery area until you are safe to go back to the general ward.
The aim of the general anaesthetic is to keep you safe and comfortable for your operation. You are also given pain relief so that you feel no pain.
The main benefit of any general anaesthetic is that it allows you to have your operation in comfort. The general anaesthetic also enables the surgeon to perform your operation with greater ease and safety.
Are there any alternatives?
There are several alternatives to a general anaesthetic. They avoid the need for a general anaesthetic and include:
Epidural - It may be possible to perform an epidural where the lower part of your body goes numb and is pain free. This involves placing a catheter next to the nerves in the spine. Drugs are then injected, stopping the nerves working temporarily. The doctors can use the epidural as pain relief after the operation by leaving the catheter in place. More drugs can be given to keep you pain free.
Spinal - Alternatively a single injection, like an epidural, but without putting the catheter in, can be used. This single injection is called a spinal. More drugs cannot be given after the operation and the spinal wears off in a few hours.
Regional anaesthetic - Another method is to make individual nerves go numb temporarily. This could be your whole arm or leg. This makes a small region of the body numb, hence the name regional anaesthetic.
Local anaesthetic - Sometimes, if the surgery is minor, local anaesthetic injections can be used to numb the operation area only.
Hypnosis - More recently, patients have used hypnosis to help them during an operation. Few people can tolerate operations with hypnosis alone, but it may assist with the relief of anxiety, when used with other nerve blocking methods.
Whether any of these alternatives are suitable, depends on the part of the body to be operated on. The length of the procedure is also important. There may be a medical reason where these procedures are not possible. For instance, if you have a condition where your blood does not clot, such as haemophilia, then you cannot have an epidural. All of these injection methods can be used with sedation to help relieve anxiety.
If you are to have one of these procedures there is another information leaflet that will tell you more about it.