What happens with a general anaesthetic

 border=Email this page
  Print friendly page

There are several different types of anaesthesia.  The type chosen depends on the surgery you are undergoing as well as your health and fitness.  Sometimes different types of anaesthesia are used in combination.

General Anaesthesia

During general anaesthesia you are put in a state of unconsciousness and you will be unaware of anything that happens during your operation.

Before the operation

The anaesthetist will visit you in the ward prior to any surgery.  Occasionally you may be seen in a pre-assessment clinic.  The anaesthetist will make the final decisions about your anaesthetic.  He or she will need to understand about your general health, any medication that you are taking and any past medical problems.  They will also ask about previous anaesthetic problems.  Your anaesthetist will also want to know whether or not you are a smoker, wether you have had any abnormal reactions to any drugs or if you have any allergies.  They will also ask about your teeth, whether you wear dentures, have crowns/caps or a plate.  The anaesthetist may examine your heart and lungs and may also prescribe a premedication to relax you.  Don't worry if you do not have a premed, your anaesthetist has to take many factors into account in making this decision but will take into account your views.  Let the antitheist know if you have any concerns. 

Please take all your heart medications, thyroxine, inhalers as normal prior to the anaesthetic.

You should not have eaten or drunk any milk for 6 hrs prior to the anaesthetic.  In general we are happy for you to drink clear water, black tea/coffee up to one hour before surgery. 

Before the operation you will usually be changed into a gown, fitted with compression stockings and wheeled to the operating suite into the anaesthetic room.  This is an anteroom next door to the operating theater.  Here you will be asked a number of checks eg who you are, what operation you are expecting, when did you last eat etc.  An intravenous line will be setup and monitoring devices attached to you eg., blood pressure cuff, ECG heart monitor and pulse oximetry.  The latter is taped to your finger and measures how much oxygen there is in your blood.  Finally you will be given some oxygen to breath.

Dr Greenslade who works with Mr Dixon will then take you into the operating theater any get you to position yourself on the operating table.  The idea is to get you lying comfortably and so avoid many problems associated with moving a paralysed patient.

During the operation

While you are unconscious and unaware your anaesthetist remains with you at all times.  He or she monitors your condition and administers the correct amount of anaesthetic drugs to maintain you in the correct level of unconsciousness for the period of surgery.  You will be monitored all the time - heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen and carbiondioxide levels, body temperature etc.  He or she will constantly watch for fluid replacement.

After the operation

After your operation we will continue to monitor your condition carefully in the recovery ward where specially trained nurses, under the direction of the anaesthetist, will look after you.  They will ensure that all the anaesthetic effect are fully reversed and that you return to full consciousness.  You will be given oxygen to breath and medication for any pain that you might feel and systems, such as Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA) may be set up for you to continue pain control on the ward.  You will almost certainly feel drowsy and sleepy and perhaps a little nauseated.  Others may have a sore throat relating to the insertion of the breathing tube inserted during surgery.  It is important that you relax as much as possible and breath deeply.  You are likely to have hazy memories of this time and in some instances perhaps a vivid dream.  Once you are fully awake you will be returned to the ward.  Do not expect to feel normal right away.

What are the risks of general anaesthesia?

In modern anesthesia, serious problems are uncommon.  Whilst risk cannot be removed completely, modern equipment, training and drugs have made this a very safe procedure.  The risks to you as an individual will depend on whether you have any other illness, smoke, are overweight and whether or not the surgery is complicated, long or carried out as an emergency.  

  • Very common side effects (1 in 10 or 1 in 100 people) include nausea and vomiting, sore throat, dizziness, blurred vision, headache, itching, backache, pain during injection of drugs, bruising and soreness, confusion and memory loss.


  • Uncommon side effects and complications (1 in 1000 people) include chest infection, bladder problems, muscle pains, depressed respiration, damage to teeth, lips or tongue.  Existing medical medical conditions may get worse.  Awareness (becoming conscious during your operation).


  • Rare or very rare complications (1 in 10,000 or 1 in 100,000) include damage to the eyes, drug allergies, nerve damage, death and equipment failure.

All rights reserved © 2006. Bristol Surgery.
SPIRE Hospital, Bristol. 
{Contact us}
Contact: Claire Trenberth - 0117 9804051