General anesthesia causes people to become unconscious for a period of time. If you are unconscious, you can't respond to sound or touch. You can't keep your airway open to breathe. Usually, a tube will be placed through your mouth or nose into the windpipe (trachea) to allow you to breathe.
General anesthesia is given by a professional with advanced training in anesthesia. This could include any of the following:
- Oral-maxillofacial surgeon
- Medical anesthesiologist
- Dental anesthesiologist
- Nurse anesthetist
You can have general anesthesia in several different settings. They may include a hospital, an outpatient surgery center or the office of a physician or dentist.
A mixture of drugs is used for general anesthesia. Each drug provides a specific action. These drugs may be inhaled or given intravenously (through a vein).
Before you have general anesthesia, your anesthesiologist will review:
- Your medical history
- The medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbal supplements
- Any street drugs you are taking
- Your allergies
- Your tobacco and alcohol use history
- Your past experiences with anesthesia and your family's history with general anesthesia
You may need an exam by your physician before your procedure. Whether you do will depend on your medical history and what procedure is planned. You also may need certain tests, including blood tests, a chest X-ray or an electrocardiogram (EKG).
General anesthesia can kill you if you use street drugs, even occasionally. It is important that you tell your anesthesiologist about your use of them.
You will be asked to stop eating and drinking for several hours before your surgery. This is to make sure your stomach is empty during the procedure. If your stomach is not empty, you may vomit while under general anesthesia. Then whatever food is in your stomach could get into your lungs. This can cause serious problems.
Your surgery will be canceled if you eat or drink before the procedure. Do not lie to the anesthesiologist about eating or drinking before the procedure.
During the surgery, a doctor or nurse will monitor you constantly. He or she will watch your blood oxygen level, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and breathing. This will continue until you go home.
You most likely will be given pain medicine during the procedure, while you are asleep. The medicine will help to ensure that you are comfortable when you wake up. Your doctor probably will also inject parts of your mouth with local anesthesia while you are asleep. When you wake up you will be numb in these areas.
Before you go home, your dentist or oral surgeon will give you instructions. Follow these carefully.
Do not drive or use any dangerous machinery for at least 24 hours after receiving general anesthesia. Someone else must drive you home. Even if you feel okay after general anesthesia, your thinking and coordination will be impaired.
For 24 hours after surgery, your doctor may tell you to avoid:
- Over-the-counter cold medicines
- Allergy medicines
- Muscle relaxants
These drugs may interact with the drugs used for general anesthesia.
Some people feel nauseous or vomit after having general anesthesia. Other side effects may include:
- Sore throat, if a breathing tube is inserted
- Muscle aches
- Vision problems
Most side effects should wear off within 24 hours. Minor side effects can last a few days. Contact your physician or dentist if these side effects continue or interfere with your daily life.
The risk of serious problems with general anesthesia is very low. This doesn't mean there aren't any risks. However, under controlled conditions with trained personnel, the risk of death or serious injury is very small. From 1988 to 2004, almost 30 million doses of anesthetics were given in oral surgeons' offices. The rate of in-office anesthesia deaths or brain damage was less than 1 for each 700,000 doses given.
Your risk of complications depends on many factors. They include:
- Current medical condition
- Use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs
Malignant hyperthermia is a rare complication of general anesthesia. It can be fatal. Some anesthesia medicines may trigger this complication. But these medicines are not usually used today in routine general anesthesia. Symptoms include rigid muscles and high fever. If someone in your family has this condition, it's important to tell your dentist or anesthesiologist before you have general anesthesia.