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Types of Anesthesia: How Are They Different?

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Aug 21, 2022

    Types of Anesthesia: How Are They Different?

    Anesthesia is a drug that doctors give to patients to alleviate or prevent pain during surgery. Some people refer to it as a substance that makes them feel “numb” in a given part of the body. Other times, anesthesia may also cause unconsciousness or a loss of awareness. 

    Before any procedure, anesthesiologists look into a patient’s medical history to check if there might be allergens that could trigger an allergic reaction. These specialist doctors are responsible for delivering and managing the type and dosage of anesthesia during surgery. 

    As part of the said management, they also take charge of overseeing and addressing some changes and concerns that may arise like those regarding the following:

    • Anxiety and pain management
    • Patient’s breathing 
    • Heart rate
    • Blood pressure
    • The result of the surgery itself  

    Types of Anesthesia

    In a general sense, doctors use anesthetic drugs to produce anesthesia. There are four common types of anesthesia that may be provided to a patient depending on the particular condition: 

    1. General Anesthesia

    This is the typical type of anesthesia people describe as something that makes them feel “sleepy” or completely unconscious. When it is administered, it may be possible that the patient may have no awareness or sensations during the surgery proper. It is generally safe to use.

    An intravenous (IV) line can deliver general anesthesia. It involves insertion of a small IV catheter into a vein, which normally takes place in the arm. Other procedures also consider gas inhalation via mask or tube. 

    Side effects may include:

    • Nausea
    • Sore throat
    • Drowsiness

    2. Local Anesthesia

    Doctors use this type of anesthetic to temporarily relieve pain in a specific area of the body. Unlike general anesthesia, you remain aware when you are given this type of anesthesia. A local anesthetic can be injected into the region or allowed to be able to enter the skin for minor surgery. 

    When a bigger area needs to be numbed or a local anesthetic injection won’t go deep enough, a doctor will use a regional anesthetic injection.

    Furthermore, doctors frequently use this in tandem with sedation for minor outpatient surgery. The surgeon or anesthesiologist may inject a local anesthetic at the end of several operations to provide additional pain reduction during recovery.

    Procedures that follow this local type of anesthesia are:

    • Cataract surgery
    • Dental or skin/dermatology procedures
    • Small wound suturings

    3. Regional Anesthesia

    A regional anesthetic prevents pain and numbs a greater area of the body, such as a limb or the entire area below the chest. During the operation, you can choose to be awake or sedated, in addition to the regional anesthetic. This depends on the necessary dosage or levels your body needs. 

    2 Types of Regional Anesthesia

    • Spinal Anesthetic: This type is used for surgeries on the lower abdomen, rectal area, or other parts of the lower extremities. The needle insertion may cause the lower part of the body to feel numb. 
    • Epidural Anesthetic: This type is normally prescribed during labor and delivery. A mother may receive an infusion periodically through a tiny catheter (hollow tube) depending on pain tolerance. Doctors insert the tube into the area in the lower back that surrounds the spinal cord, inducing numbness in the lower body. Chest or abdominal surgery can also benefit from epidural anesthesia.

    4. Sedation 

    Sedative drugs, otherwise known as monitored anesthesia care, can calm and ease you into sleep more naturally.  However, there are still cases wherein patients may still startle or awaken unexpectedly. 

    Some procedures that utilize light or moderate sedation are:

    How To Administer Anesthesia

    There are also several methods of delivery for anesthesia:

    • Application of topical anesthetics to skin or membranes (e.g., creams, sprays, or patches)
    • Gas inhalation through a mask or tube
    • Intravenous, intradermal or injectables

    Key Takeaways

    The type of anesthesia that your doctor will administer depends on several factors.

    Some of these are: what type of surgical procedure would happen, the patient’s pain threshold and health condition alongside the height, weight, and age, and other risk factors that may come into play. Make sure to discuss all these things with your doctor, along with any apprehensions you may have, before any surgery or any other medical procedure that would require anesthetic help.

    Learn more about Medical Procedures here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Aug 21, 2022

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