What do you need to know about General Anaesthesia?

Your operation

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General anaesthesia is a state of controlled unconsciousness. During a general anaesthetic, medications are used to send you to sleep, so you're unaware of surgery and don't move or feel pain while it's carried out.

General anaesthesia is essential for some surgical procedures. Your surgeon can advise whether he thinks a general anaesthetic will be necessary. 

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Preparation period

Before having an operation, you'll meet a specialist doctor called an anaesthetist to discuss which anaesthetic is most suitable for you.

Your anaesthetist will look at your medical history, family history and may examine you. They'll also ask about your general health and lifestyle, including whether you have any allergies, smoke, drink alcohol and which medications you take.

Your anaesthetist will explain the anaesthetic to you and answer any questions you have.

Before and during your operation

Just before you have surgery, you'll usually be taken to a room where your anaesthetist will give you the general anaesthetic. It will either be given as a:

  • liquid that's injected into your veins through a cannula (a thin, plastic tube that feeds into a vein, usually on the back of your hand)
  • gas that you breathe in through a mask

The anaesthetic should take effect very quickly. You'll start feeling light-headed, before becoming unconscious within a minute or so.

Your anaesthetist will stay with you throughout the procedure. They'll make sure you continue to receive the anaesthetic and that you stay in a controlled state of unconsciousness. They'll also give you painkilling medicine into your veins, so that you're comfortable when you wake up.

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After your operation, the anaesthetist will stop the anaesthetic and you'll gradually wake up. You'll usually be in a recovery room at first, before being transferred to a ward.