Anesthesia and You

What is anesthesia?

  • Anesthesia means not feeling pain as a result of the use of drugs.
  • The type of anesthesia you receive is based on your medical condition and the kind of surgery you are having.

Who gives anesthesia?

  • An anesthesiologist: a medical doctor specially trained in anesthesiology.
  • They are very knowledgeable about the effect of medications and the body’s response to surgery.

What does your anesthesiologist do?

  • Provides your anesthesia care.
  • Stays with you during the entire surgery.
  • Carefully keeps an eye on your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
  • Supervises your recovery from anesthesia and your initial pain control after your operation.
  • Your anesthesiologist will be glad to answer any questions or discuss any concerns you may have about your anesthetic.

When do I meet my anesthesiologist?

  • Most healthy patients will see their anesthesiologist on the day of their surgery.
  • Patients with medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, or asthma, are often seen by the anesthesiologist before the day of their surgery in the preadmission clinic.

How can I prepare for my operation?

  • Improving your general physical condition can help you heal faster after an operation.
  • Consider giving up smoking for at least 6 weeks before your operation, if not for good! This will help your blood to transport more oxygen, and help with healing after your surgery.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption. No alcohol for 24 hours before or after surgery.
  • Stop using recreational drugs for as long as possible.
  • Reduce your weight if you are overweight, to improve your overall physical condition prior to surgery.
  • Long-standing medical conditions should be stable.
  • Remove all jewellery prior to admission for your safety. If in the mouth or nose, it may become dislodged, and could end up either in your stomach or lungs. Rings may stop blood circulation to fingers or toes. The hospital is not responsible if any of your jewellery should be lost. 
  • Remove nail polish from fingers and toes.
  • You will receive instructions about taking your regular medications on the day of surgery.

Your surgery can be cancelled for your own safety if you do not follow these instructions.

What will my anesthesiologist want to know about me?

  • Details about your overall health and a full medical history - including any prescription, non-prescription, recreational medications, and natural remedies.
  • Allergies.
  • Smoking and/or alcohol use.
  • Unusual reactions to anesthesia, either in you or a close family member.
  • Details of any dental work (i.e. loose teeth, false teeth, caps or crowns).
  • Any significant neck, jaw, joint or back problems.

What about my medication on the day of my operation?

  • Your medical condition and medications will be reviewed with you in the Pre-Admission Clinic on the day of your visit or on the day of your surgery. Full instructions will either be given by your surgeon, medical internist, anesthesiologist, or the pre-admission nurses who interview you in the pre-admission clinic.

For how long am I NOT supposed to eat or drink prior to my surgery?

  • The nurses in the Pre-Admission Clinic, your surgeon, or your surgeon's office will give you exact instructions during your Pre-Admission Clinic (PAC) visit.
  • These fasting guidelines are important for your safety. Under anesthesia, some people may regurgitate, or vomit, and this material from your stomach could enter into your lungs and result in serious lung damage, or even death.

    If you do not follow the instructions given to you, your surgery may be postponed or cancelled.

What happens at the end of my surgery?

  • Pain medication will be given.
  • You will be taken to the Post Anesthetic Care Unit (PACU) otherwise known as the recovery room.
  • A PACU nurse will assess you and provide the appropriate care.
  • If you are a patient being admitted to the hospital, you will be taken to your room after your stay in PACU.
  • If you are a one day stay patient, you will be taken to the Day Surgery Unit before you are discharged.
  • You should NOT drive, operate any machinery, or make important decisions for at least 24 hours after leaving the recovery room (PACU).

Will I need a blood transfusion?

  • It depends on many factors, such as: the type of operation you are having and the condition of your own blood before surgery.
  • This issue will be discussed with you in your Pre-Admission Clinic (PAC) visit.
  • For further information, please visit the Blood Conservation Program website.

What are the different types of anesthesia?

  • At your Pre-Admission Clinic (PAC) visit, your anesthesiologist will discuss anesthetic methods that are appropriate for your surgery.
  • Anesthetic choices are based on your surgery, your overall health, and your personal preference.
  • Anesthesia types are often combined. This helps to improve pain control, comfort, and anxiety.
  1. Local anesthesia:
    • Medication is used to numb or freeze a small part of the body.
    • You will be conscious, but will not experience any pain.
    • It is common to feel pressure or tugging during the operation.

  2. Regional anesthesia (blocks):
    • Local anesthetic (freezing) is injected near large bundles of nerves, so that larger parts of the body are ‘frozen’ (have no sensation).
    At University Hospital: You will be taken to the recovery room to have the regional block done before your surgery.
    At Victoria Hospital: Your block will be done in the operating room.
    Examples of blocks: epidural, spinal (lower half of body frozen), and upper limb blocks (one arm frozen).

  3. General anesthesia:
    • A controlled state of consciousness.
    • General anesthesia is started by either injecting medication into your intravenous (IV), or by breathing anesthetic gas from a mask.
    • Once you are asleep, a breathing device is inserted into your mouth and this helps you to breathe while you are anesthetized.

  4. Sedation:
    • Drugs used will make you feel mentally and physically relaxed.
    • Are usually given into your intravenous (IV).


What are the risks of anesthesia?

Very common (1 in 10 chance) to common (1 in 100 chance):

  • Feeling sick to your stomach and vomiting

  • Sore throat, hoarse voice

  • Dizziness, blurred vision

  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Pain during drug injection
  • Temporary confusion, memory loss

Uncommon (1 in 1000 to 1 in 10,000 chance):

  • Chest infection
  • Difficulty with bladder control
  • Muscular pain
  • Slow breathing
  • Jaw joint pain
  • Damage to teeth, lips, gums. (Damage to teeth during intubation may be considered a risk associated with intubation). 
  • Awareness (becoming conscious during anesthesia)

Rare (1 in 10,000 chance) to very rare (1 in 100,000 chance):

  • Damage to eyes
  • Serious allergy to drugs
  • Nerve damage
  • Stroke/heart attack/death

Where can I get more information?

  1. From your anesthesiologist at your Pre-Admission Clinic visit prior to your surgery.
  2. From the Pre-Admission or Surgical Day care nurses.
  3. From the following websites:

Patient Information: Anesthesia Topics, The Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society

"Stop Smoking for Safer Surgery," Ontario's Anesthesiologists of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA)

"What you should know before surgery" by the American Society of Anesthesiologists