What is Anesthesia
Anesthesia is a powerful tool that blocks pain on a local or general basis. It’s used in various different ways to achieve specific results, whether it be to block the pain of childbirth, or numb a small area for a minor procedure. It’s also used for chronic pain conditions that are difficult to treat or are unresponsive to various types of pain relievers.
The Different Types of Anesthesia
When most people hear the word anesthesia, they immediately think of being “put under” for a surgical procedure. While that is the most well-known use, the term is much broader than surgery alone. It’s also used to describe the act of numbing a small part of the body. During a surgical procedure, it’s not uncommon for a patient to receive general and local anesthesia. The general is used to put the patient into a deep sleep via inhalation through a mask, then the local is used to further numb the area. The anesthesiologist can use less of the inhaled form, allowing the patient to come out from the induced sleep that much sooner and with potentially less grogginess upon waking.
Anesthesia in its other forms is used to diagnose or treat a condition. They include:
How Anesthesia Works
Locals are used to numb a small area for treatment. The physician or surgeon may be stitching a wound together, performing a minor surgical procedure, or to remove a foreign object. It typically covers an area that is a couple of inches in diameter.
Regional anesthesia covers both spinal and epidural. The term regional means that the anesthesia only covers a specific portion of the body instead of its entirety. These work by using nerve blocks to prevent the patient from feeling any sensations or pain during the procedure.
Spinal and epidural anesthetics are similar to one another, but each affects different areas of the body. Epidurals are commonly used for childbirth, but they are also used for leg, abdominal and chest procedures. Spinals are primarily used for the area of the body below the waist.
Application of a spinal is directly injected by a syringe into the appropriate nerve cluster, and an epidural is applied via a tube that reaches the spinal cord in the lumbar, or lower, spine.
Using Anesthesia as a Diagnostic Tool
Sometimes it happens that pain won’t respond to traditional treatments of oral pain relievers or steroids injected into the site of the pain. The lack of response could be due to the source of the pain being elusive enough that a definitive diagnosis is difficult to come by. A physician can take the examination to another level by using a nerve block.
A nerve block has the effect of blocking the pain signals from the nerves to the brain. It is done by injecting anesthetic into the set of nerves or ganglions that are suspected of causing the pain. The patient is then asked to move the extremity or area of the body that has been blocked. The physician then notes the range of motion that the patient shows after the block, and can further pinpoint the problem to its source.
Anesthesia as Pain Reliever
The aforementioned nerve blocks are also effective at treating chronic pain issues. They are used when other medications fail to relieve the pain, and can last anywhere from 6 to 12 months. The anesthetic effect eventually wears off, requiring a new application of anesthesia. While the anesthesia is working, the patient feels no pain, and can return to performing daily activities without restrictions.
There are always risks that come with the use of anesthesia. Always discuss them with the physician to fully understand what may happen, and if the potential risks are worth taking.