About your anaesthetic

Q. What is anaesthesia?

The word "anaesthesia" means "without feeling". Anaesthesia is when a person is rendered unconscious for the purpose of allowing surgery to take place. It is a complicated process, involving management of consciousness, maintaining an open airway and vital body functions such as breathing and blood pressure, pain management and many more facets. Anaesthesia is considered a "critical care" specialty due to the potential for serious adverse effects when delivered by untrained professionals.

The practice of anaesthesia requires a combination of clinical interventions by an anaesthetist that allows the patient to have their procedure undertaken with minimal discomfort and distress. It is the anaesthetist's role to assess you or your child and their health in the context of the procedure to determine the best strategy to ensure their comfort and safety before, during, and after their procedure.

The anaesthetist stays with the patient throughout the entire procedure administering medication and managing consciousness, comfort, breathing, and heart function to ensure the safest and most comfortable outcome possible.

Q. What is an anaesthetist?

An anaesthetist is a specialist doctor that has undertaken five years of dedicated training in anaesthesia, in addition to a six-year medical degree. The training is like a postgraduate degree, with a mixture of practical and theoretical training, with regular assessments in hospitals and written and oral examinations. This training equips them with the skills required to safely and optimally manage patients while having procedures done.

A paediatric anaesthetist is an anaesthetist with a minimum of one year of additional focused training in a specialist paediatric hospital. While most anaesthetists may look after older and otherwise well children, a paediatric anaesthetist will usually care for children of all ages and medical conditions.

An anaesthetist will consult with and examine you prior to your procedure, and together with you will devise the safest and best plan for your anaesthetic.

Q. What are the different types of anaesthetic?

There are four types of anaesthesia, which may be used in combination:

Local anaesthesia

A medication (“local anaesthetic”) is injected to numb an area of skin. This is usually all that is required for a minor skin procedure and will provide pain relief after the procedure.

Regional anaesthesia
Local anaesthetic is injected near nerves to numb a larger area of the body. Examples of this include a spinal or epidural, such as used for women in labour or for hip and knee replacements, or “nerve blocks” used for the arm, leg or abdominal wall. Ultrasound may be used to visualise the nerves to improve accuracy and safety. Regional anesthesia is also helpful in reducing post-operative pain.
Sedation uses anaesthetic drugs in smaller quantities to make you sleepy, relieve anxiety and provide comfort. This is commonly used in day procedures such as endoscopy. It is short acting, meaning you can eat, drink and go home earlier than if you had a general anaesthetic. It may also be used in combination with local or regional anaesthesia.
General anaesthesia
You will be completely unconscious, aiming to prevent awareness and maintain comfort throughout the procedure. You are closely monitored throughout and medications are given to maintain unconsciousness, provide pain relief, relax your muscles and support your vital systems.

Q. What are the risks of anaesthesia?

Due to the extensive specialist medical training, as well as modern anaesthesia equipment and medications, anaesthesia undertaken in Australia is very safe. There is, however, a level of risk associated with every part of our daily lives, and undergoing anaesthesia for a procedure is no different.

The most common side effects of anaesthesia include postoperative nausea and vomiting, sore throat, and minor injuries to the mouth and teeth.

Serious adverse events with anaesthesia are rare. They include life-threatening allergic reactions, heart attacks, strokes, requiring ICU post-operatively and death. Your level of risk may be increased with health problems such as heart disease or smoking.

Adverse effects of spinal anaesthesia (used commonly for Caesarean Sections, urology and hip and knee surgery) include nausea, vomiting, headaches and damage to nerves which is usually self-resolving. Serious adverse effects are rare and include bleeding, infection and spinal cord injury.

Smoking can adversely affect your anaesthetic and we encourage patients to abstain from smoking as early as possible.