Why are there different types of anesthesia, and which one is the safest?

Your surgery is scheduled for 3 p.m. tomorrow at Inova, and you’re extremely nervous. Your doctor assured you that it is a simple procedure and depending on how you feel tomorrow, you can decide whether you want a local, regional, or general anesthetic.

Since the surgery isn’t too invasive, which one should you choose? Is one safer than the others? What are the differences?

Types of Anesthesia

Anesthesia is used throughout many medical procedures as a way to numb pain or to keep you from feeling and reacting to pain. Depending on the procedure, there are three different types of anesthesia—local, regional, and general—that might be used:

  • Local anesthesia is a numbing agent given to temporarily stop the sense of pain in a specific area of the body. While you remain awake and fully conscious, the local anesthetic dulls the nerves around the injection site, making it impossible for you to feel pain in that area. An example of a local anesthesia would be when your dentist gives you an injection in your gums when you’re getting a cavity filled. Your gums become numb, but you’re fully awake and alert throughout the procedure.
  • Regional anesthesia is used to numb a significant but limited portion of the body. Usually an injection of local anesthetic is given into a cluster of nerves that provide feeling to that specific area only, while you remain conscious and alert. Two types of regional anesthesias are spinal and epidural. A spinal block is a single injection that numbs the part of the spinal cord that allows you to feel pain in your lower abdomen and lower extremities. An epidural allows a continuous flow of anesthetic by way of a hollow tube situated near your spine. Both of theses regional anesthesias are used primarily for childbirth, as they allow the mother to be aware of what she is doing, while helping numb the pain enough to focus on pushing.
  • General anesthesia is used to induce complete unconsciousness during surgery or invasive procedures, both to prevent the patient from feeling the pain of surgery and also to help keep vital signs—blood pressure, heart rate, etc.—calm and normal. The medication is either inhaled through a breathing mask, or administered through a thin plastic tube inserted into a vein.

Dangers of Each Type

Unfortunately, although they are all meant to help ease the pain and suffering associated with medical procedures, all three types of anesthesias have their own unique dangers.

General anesthesia is by far the most dangerous of the three types. Since you’re unconscious and can’t physically tell the doctor if you feel pain, dizzy, or out of breath, your vital signs must be closely monitored by a third party. Unfortunately, the more people in the mix, the increased chance of human error. If your anesthesiologist neglects to pay attention to the monitors, a small spike or irregularity could cause massive damage. Likewise, since the drug affects your entire body, if he administers too much (or too little), you could wind up suffering catastrophic injuries and side effects.

Both local and regional anesthesias aren’t as dangerous, purely because they allow you to remain conscious and don’t affect your entire body. However, the risk of high dosages could still cause dangerous allergic, respiratory, and tissue reactions. Again, since you’re relying on someone else’s ability to properly inject the drug, mistakes can happen, leaving you with the consequences.

What to Do When the Numbing Wears Off and the Pain Starts

It’s is extremely disheartening, frightening, and distressing to put your trust in a medical professional, only to have him cause you more pain. If you’ve been injured as a result of improper anesthesia protocols, contact us immediately. We know how coldhearted hospital insurance companies can be when their doctors are to blame. Don’t allow them to push you around or make your nightmare worse. Wake up and call us for a free consultation. We’ll not only fight to make sure you get the justice you deserve, but we’ll also help give you the peace of mind you need to sleep better tonight. Please call now.

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