Patient Education

What is an anesthesiologist? A certified nurse anesthetist? An anesthesiology assistant?

  • Anesthesiologist
    An anesthesiologist is an M.D. who has completed additional training at the post-graduate level in anesthesiology and resuscitation. This usually involves a three-year training period or residency after the completion of an internship program. Frequently, anesthesiologists undergo post-certification or fellowship training to become proficient in a specialty such as neuroanesthesia or pediatric anesthesia.
  • Nurse Anesthetist                                                        
    A certified nurse anesthetist is a nurse with master’s degree-level training in anesthesia. This usually involves two or three years of training following one to two years experience in critical care nursing. Nurse anesthetists provide a broad range of anesthesia services in collaboration with a medical doctor or dentist.
  • Anesthesiology Assistant
    An anesthesiology assistant is a health care provider who has received master’s level training in anesthesiology, and who practices under the medical direction of a qualified anesthesiologist.

Will my anesthetist be with me at all times during the surgery?

Yes – a trained professional is present at all times during your surgery to monitor your condition and adjust your anesthetic as necessary.

What are the different types of anesthesia?

There are three main categories of anesthesia: local, regional, and general. Each has many forms and uses.

  • Local anesthesia
    An anesthetic drug is usually injected into the tissue to numb just the specific location of the body requiring minor surgery.
  • Regional anesthesia
    An anesthesiologist makes an injection near a cluster of nerves to numb the area of the body that requires surgery. You may remain awake, or may be given a sedative. You do not see or feel the actual surgery take place. Two of the most frequently used types of regional anesthesia are spinal anesthesia and epidural anesthesia, where injections are made with great exactness in the appropriate areas of the back. These are frequently preferred for childbirth and prostate surgery.
  • General anesthesia
    You are given a general anesthetic drug: some are gases or vapors inhaled through a breathing mask or tube and others are medications introduced through a vein. You are unconscious and have no awareness or other sensations.  During anesthesia, you are carefully monitored, controlled and treated by your anesthesiologist, who uses sophisticated equipment to track all your major bodily functions. A breathing tube may be inserted through your mouth and frequently into the windpipe to maintain proper breathing during this period. The length and level of anesthesia is calculated and constantly adjusted with great precision. When surgery is over, your anesthesiologist will reverse the process and you will regain awareness in the recovery room. 

What are the risks of anesthesia ?

All operations and anesthesia have some risks -- they are dependent upon many factors including the type of surgery and the patient’s medical condition. Fortunately, adverse events are very rare. You should ask your anesthesiologist about any risks that may be associated with your anesthesia.

Is it OK to eat or drink before anesthesia ?

As a general rule, you should not eat or drink anything after midnight before your surgery. Under some circumstances, you may be given permission by your anesthesiologist to drink clear liquids up to a few hours before your anesthesia.

Should I take my usual medicine ?

Some medications should be taken and others should not. It is important to discuss this with your anesthesiologist. Do not interrupt medications unless your anesthesiologist or surgeon recommends it.

Could herbal medicines and other dietary supplements affect my anesthesia if I need surgery

Researchers are conducting studies to determine exactly how certain herbs and dietary supplements interact with certain anesthetics. They are finding that certain herbal medicines may prolong the effects of anesthesia. Others may increase the risks of bleeding or raise blood pressure. Some effects may be subtle, but anticipating a possible reaction is better than reacting to an unexpected condition. It is important to tell your doctor about everything you take before surgery.

What is "awareness" and should I be concerned about this prior to my surgery ?

Awareness under general anesthesia is a rare condition that occurs when surgical patients can recall their surroundings or an event related to their surgery. This is quite rare and when it does occur it is often fleeting and not traumatic to the patient. It can range from brief, hazy recollections to some specific awareness of your surroundings during surgery. Experts in the field of anesthesiology are actively studying this condition and seeking the most effective ways to prevent it. You should talk with your anesthesia professional before surgery to discuss any concerns you have.

Questions to ask before surgery

Following are some questions you may want to ask your anesthesiologist about what to expect before, during and after surgery.

  • What are your qualifications? How many procedures like this have you done?
  • Who else might be involved with my anesthesia care?
  • Will I meet with an anesthesiologist before surgery?
  • Do you monitor my heart and breathing? What else?
  • Do you have a 24-hour recovery room? If not, where will I recover?
  • What are the qualifications of the personnel in the recovery room, and is an anesthesiologist on call to respond to the recovery room?
  • Who will manage my pain control needs after surgery?

*Portions of this content have been excerpted from the American Society of Anesthesiologists