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General Anesthesia vs. Local Anesthesia

Instructor: Jose Hernandez
Did you know that there are actually two kinds of anesthesia? In this lesson, we will learn the basics of anesthesia, compare general anesthesia with local anesthesia, and also look at their respective side effects.

What is Anesthesia?

You are about to undergo a dental procedure. It is for the dreadful removal of your wisdom teeth. Your dentist tells you that he will be using local anesthesia, so you will be awake throughout the procedure. You wonder why the doctor chose this type of anesthesia instead of the more common general anesthesia.

So what is anesthesia? Anesthesia is medication used to induce a state in which a person is free from pain. This is performed by using medicines to block sensation in specific parts of the body or by causing a person to fall into a deep sleep state. General anesthesia causes a person to 'fall asleep' while the medical procedure takes place, while local anesthesia is applied to a specific region in the body where the procedure will be performed. We will next compare these two types of anesthesia.

What is General Anesthesia?

As you are undergoing your dental procedure, you remember previous surgeries you've had, or that family members have undergone, and realize that during those procedures you were completely asleep. During long procedures, general anesthesia is applied instead of local anesthesia. This is due to help with breathing, anxiety, and patient discomfort.

During long operations, general anesthesia is preferred over local anesthesia
During long operations, general anesthesia is preferred over local anesthesia

General anesthesia is more than just falling into a deep sleep. During this procedure, the medication being used blocks any pain that a person might otherwise feel without anesthesia. A person will not remember anything occurring during a surgery if general anesthesia is applied.

General anesthesia can be administered as a gas form through a gas mask, or intravenously. However, both methods can be utilized simultaneously. So why is general anesthesia not used during all medical procedures? This is due to the high risks associated with this procedure. A person is unable to breath on his own, therefore sophisticated medical equipment is necessary to assist with the breathing. General anesthesia can also have several side effects on the patient such as:

  • Nausea
  • Sore throat - this is caused by a flexible tube inserted into a person's throat to assist with breathing
  • Confusion
  • Chills
  • Itching
  • Sleepiness
  • Dry mouth

Although these side effects are rather common, more severe side effects such as seizures and heart attacks can occur. Therefore a nurse or healthcare provider should monitor the patient upon wakening.

What is Local Anesthesia?

However, there are cases, such as dental procedures, when local anesthesia is used. As previously mentioned, and as the name implies, local anesthesia is the concept when a specific part of the body loses sensitivity. If a person is undergoing a simple dental procedure, a removal of a mole, sutures, or even eye surgery, local anesthesia might be a safer alternative to general anesthesia. It is usually applied during minor, outpatient surgeries.

Local anesthesia is preferred during dental procedures
Local anesthesia is preferred during dental procedures

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