An anaesthetic is given so that you do not feel any pain or other sensations during surgery.

There are different types of anaesthetic and the anaesthetist will advise which one is best for you.

Anaesthetics can be given in various ways and do not always make you unconscious.

What types of anaesthetic are there?

  • A local anaesthetic uses a drug that numbs a small part of your body. It is usually injected and will sting for a few seconds at first. You stay conscious but free from pain
  • A regional anaesthetic uses an injection of local anaesthetic to numb a larger or deeper part of your body, for example an arm or a leg. The most common regional anaesthetics (also known as regional ‘blocks’) are spinal and epidural anaesthetics. They involve injections in the back to remove feeling from the waist down. You stay conscious but free from pain. Epidurals may be used during and/or after surgery for pain relief
  • Conscious sedation: you will be given drugs to make you sleepy, relaxed and pain free but you will not be unconscious
  • A general anaesthetic gives a state of controlled unconsciousness. It is essential for many operations. You are unconscious and feel nothing

How is the choice of anaesthetic made?

Dependant on your general health and the type of surgery you are having you may see an anaesthetist either at your pre assessment visit or on the day of surgery.

The anaesthetist will discuss with you which types of anaesthetic can be used and the benefits, risks and your preferences. Nothing will happen to you until you understand and agree with what has been planned for you. You have the right to refuse if you do not want the treatment suggested.

The choice of anaesthetic will depend on:

  • Your operation
  • Your answers to the questions you have been asked
  • Your physical condition
  • Your preferences and the reasons for them
  • Your anaesthetist’s recommendations for you and the reasons behind them
  • The equipment, staff and other resources at your hospital

If you are having a local or regional anaesthetic, you may also need to decide whether you would prefer to:

  • Be fully alert
  • Be relaxed and sleepy (sedated)
  • Combine a local or regional anaesthetic with a general anaesthetic

Sedation is the use of small amounts of anaesthetic or similar drugs to produce a ‘sleep-like’ state.