Topic Overview

Anesthesia is a way to control pain and keep you comfortable during a procedure by using medicines called anesthetics. These medicines block pain. They may also make you relaxed, sleepy or forgetful, or unconscious for your procedure.

Types of anesthesia

The different types of anesthesia include:

  • Sedation. It's medicine that helps you relax or fall asleep. It may be used with other medicine to control pain.
  • Local. It numbs a small part of the body.
  • Regional. It blocks pain to a larger area of your body. Some types of regional anesthesia include:
    • Peripheral nerve blocks. This is a shot of medicine to block pain around a specific nerve or group of nerves. Blocks are often used for procedures on the hands, arms, feet, legs, or face.
    • Spinal and epidural. These are shots of medicine near the spinal cord and the nerves that connect to it. They block pain from an entire region of the body, such as the belly, hips, or legs.
  • General. It affects your whole body. With general anesthesia, you're unconscious during the procedure.


Major side effects and other problems of anesthesia aren't common, especially in people who are in good health.

But all anesthesia has some risk. For example:

  • After general anesthesia, nausea and sore throat can occur. In rare cases, heart or breathing problems or other serious issues can occur.
  • After spinal or epidural anesthesia, some people get headaches. In rare cases, heart or breathing problems or nerve damage can occur.

Your risk depends on the type of anesthesia you get. It also depends on your age, your health, and how you respond to the medicines used. Some health conditions increase your chances of problems from anesthesia. Examples include heart and lung problems, obesity, and sleep apnea. Taking certain medicines can raise your risk for problems. So can smoking, drinking alcohol, and using drugs.

Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about the best type for you. They will review risks and benefits.


Current as of: October 20, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
John M. Freedman MD - Anesthesiology
Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine
Donald Sproule MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine