Getting the facts on anesthesia

(ARA) – When you’re facing surgery, it’s normal to feel anxious. Many people find it daunting to completely surrender their well-being to others. Common fears range from concerns about undergoing anesthesia, to how long the recovery period will last. That is why it is important to know and trust the physicians responsible for your anesthesia care.

Fortunately, you can do a lot to prepare yourself for surgery and anesthesia, and take steps to help your physicians, including your anesthesiologist, achieve the best possible outcome for you.

Getting the facts on anesthesia

Anesthesia and pain management are integral facets of any surgical procedure. Fifty years ago, anesthesia-related fatalities were about one in every 1,500 procedures. Today, that rate is less than one in every 200,000 when an anesthesiologist administers or supervises the patient’s anesthesia care.

Communicating with your physicians is essential. Many hospitals provide patients with the opportunity to meet with the key members of their surgical team prior to surgery, including the anesthesia team. If the option is not offered, feel free to request a meeting and to ask critical questions.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) offers answers to some commonly asked questions, including:

* What are the qualifications of an anesthesiologist? – Anesthesiologists are medical doctors who specialize in the field of anesthesiology. With more than eight years of post-graduate, advanced medical training and education, an anesthesiologist is properly prepared to make split-second decisions to safeguard your health before, during and following surgery. With significantly longer and more extensive training than other classifications of anesthesia practitioners, an anesthesiologist appropriately supervises the anesthesia care team.

* Who else will be involved in your anesthesia care? – Your anesthesia care team may also include an anesthesiologist assistant. These skilled health professionals complete four-year pre-med programs and accredited anesthesiologist assistant education programs to earn their professional certification. They are required to work under the supervision of an anesthesiologist. A nurse anesthetist is a registered nurse who has completed an accredited nurse anesthesia program. Often, an anesthesiologist supervises the nurse’s work, but he or she may also work under the supervision of other doctors.

* What type of anesthesia care might you receive? – There are three basic types of anesthesia care: general, regional and local. Patients under general anesthesia are unconscious and have no awareness or other sensations. For regional anesthesia, an anesthesiologist administers an injection near a cluster of nerves to numb the area that requires surgery. Patients may remain awake, or be given a sedative. In local anesthesia, the anesthetic drug is injected into the tissue to numb only a specific location on the body that requires minor surgery.

Your role in preparations

While understanding how anesthesia will be used in your surgery – and by whom – is important to achieve the best possible outcome, you can also do a lot to prepare yourself physically at home, before your surgery.

First, follow all pre-operative directions from your physicians. These can range from quitting smoking as soon as you know you face surgery, to getting a full eight hours of sleep the night before your procedure.

Make sure your doctor and anesthesiologist are both aware of every medication you take, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements, since they can all affect your anesthesia and surgery. ASA offers a “Checklist of Emergency Contact Information and Current Medications” that you can download, complete and bring with you on the day of your surgery.

After your surgery

To aid in achieving optimal results post-procedure, you must follow the doctor’s directions, whether it’s getting back on your feet as soon as possible, or getting plenty of bed rest until you’ve more fully recovered.

Be attentive to any side effects and report problems to your doctor promptly. While improved anesthetics and techniques have drastically reduced post-operative problems, some patients still experience them. Your anesthesiologist may prescribe medications to minimize post-operative pain, nausea and vomiting. It is vital that patients keep all prescription medication out of the reach of children. Once you have completed the prescription cycle, be sure to safely and properly discard any unused medication.

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