There are a number of options when being anaesthetised and these will be discussed with you. The decision as to which technique will be used will be made on an individual basis between you and your anaesthetist. This will be based on:

  • The type of surgery to be performed
  • The anaesthetist’s assessment
  • Your preference

Broadly speaking there are three types of anaesthetic – local, regional and general, although a combination of these can also be used.

General Anaesthesia:
Causes deep sleep and makes you unaware of what is happening to you or going on around you. Most people are sent to sleep by injecting drugs through a drip (small tube) into a vein. It takes about 30 seconds to work. The injection can ache a bit at the time but any discomfort will usually be gone when you wake up. For some people, it may be more appropriate to go to sleep by breathing an anaesthetic gas through your facemask. This also takes about 30 seconds to work. You will be kept asleep for as long as it is needed either by giving you more of the same drug into the vein or by breathing in anaesthetic gases. When the operation has finished, the anaesthetic wears off allowing you to wake up again.

Regional Anaesthesia (Epidural or Spinal):
Involves injecting drugs near your spinal cord to give pain relief in certain areas of your body. An epidural works by temporarily numbing your nerves to give pain relief. A fine catheter (small tube) is inserted into the epidural space in your back. Most of your nerves pass through this space. Local anaesthetics and other painkilling drugs are injected down the catheter into the epidural space to numb your nerves. The epidural can be maintained by giving extra doses when needed or by giving a continuous low dose. The technique for a spinal anaesthetic is similar. However, a spinal usually involves only one injection, with a fine needle, into the bag of fluid that surrounds the spinal cord.

Local Anaesthesia:
Temporarily stops nerves working so that you do not feel pain. The drug can be injected just around the area where the operation is going to take place. It is possible to numb all the nerves to an arm or a leg (called a regional block). Your anaesthetist or surgeon will discuss the options with you and recommend the best for of anaesthesia for you.

For more information please read the Anaesthetics section in the Elective Surgery Information booklet.