On this page:
What Is Anesthesia?
Anesthesia is a medical intervention that prevents patients from feeling pain during procedures like surgery, certain screening and diagnostic tests,
tissue sample removal (e.g., skin biopsies), and dental work.
Anesthesiologists are doctors who have been specifically trained to give
medicines used for anesthesia, which are called
anesthetics. Depending on the type of pain relief needed, anesthesiologists can deliver anesthetics through several methods:
- Gas that the patient inhales through a mask covering the mouth and nose
- Intravenous line with a needle inserted into a vein, giving direct access to the bloodstream
- Catheter (thin tube) inserted into the space outside of the spinal cord or around peripheral nerves
- Injection into a body part with a needle and syringe
- Topical lotion or spray
- Eye drops
- Skin patch
Before the introduction of safe and effective anesthetics about 175 years ago, surgeries of any kind were rare, dangerous, and only used as a last resort. Patients who underwent surgeries at this time did so fully conscious. Now, advances in anesthesia have allowed for lifesaving surgeries that would be impossible otherwise. Surgeries to treat
organ transplants, and
open-heart surgery are only a few types of the important techniques anesthesia has made possible. Modern anesthetics are typically very safe, but there are risks involved, including breathing problems, allergic reactions, and general confusion after surgery.