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​​​What Is Anesthesia?

Anesthesia is a type of medicine used to prevent pain during surgery and other medical procedures. The four types of anesthesia all act differently, ranging from making patients unconscious and unable to move to numbing just small areas of the skin.

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A team of doctors performing surgery on a patient in a hospital operating room.  

How Anesthesia Works

Anesthesia prevents pain by stopping nerves from passing signals to the brain. Inhibitory neurotransmitters, for example, are released in response to some anesthetics and reduce the responsiveness of surrounding nerves.

Types of Anesthesia

  • General: causes unconsciousness and loss of feeling in complex procedures such as back surgery
  • Monitored sedation: relaxes the body in procedures such as colonoscopies
  • Regional: numbs sensation only in the area that needs it, as for hand surgeries
  • Local: affects only a small part of the body, such as a tooth during a root canal


NIGMS Biomedical Beat Blog promotion.  

Biomedical Beat blog posts related to anesthesia.

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NIGMS Educational Resources

The cover of Pathways: The Anesthesia Issue.  

Issue of Pathways student magazine focused on anesthesia (grades 6-12).

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The outline of a brain surrounded by three sheep representing consciousness, sleep, and unconsciousness. Text reads: “Tour Your Brain. What’s the difference between consciousness, sleep, and unconsciousness? Explore the brain to find out what anesthesia researchers have learned.”  

An interactive that explores different regions of the brain when someone is conscious, asleep, or unconscious.

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Other Resources

This page last updated on 12/11/2023 2:53 PM