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General, Regional, and Local Anesthesia

Anesthesia is a way to control pain using anesthetic medicine. Anesthetics are used to numb a specific area of the body (local and regional anesthesia) or to cause a person to be unconscious and not have pain during a procedure such as surgery (general anesthesia).

  • Local anesthesia numbs just a small area of tissue where a minor procedure is to be done.
  • Regional anesthesia numbs a larger (but still limited) part of the body and does not make the person unconscious. Sometimes medicine is added to help the person relax or fall asleep. Spinal and epidural anesthesia are examples of regional anesthesia.
  • General anesthesia affects the entire body and makes the person unconscious. The unconscious person is completely unaware of what is going on and does not feel pain from the surgery or procedure. General anesthesia medicines can be injected into a vein or inhaled.

The type of anesthesia used depends upon the procedure and the person's health, age, and preferences. Young children usually cannot remain still during surgery and need general anesthesia. People with certain health problems choose local or regional anesthesia when that is an option, because it may pose fewer risks than general anesthesia in some situations. Long or difficult surgeries may require general anesthesia.

A person choosing local or regional anesthesia needs to be able to lie still and remain calm during the surgery. Medicine may be given to help with relaxation.

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