This page gives you information about the general anaesthetic and/or sedation you will have before your operation.
Who will give me the anaesthetic?
An anaesthetist will give you the anaesthetic before your operation. Anaesthetists are qualified doctors who have had specialist training to care for you before, during and after surgery.
The anaesthetist is supported by an assistant who is a nurse or an Operating Department Practitioner. They will look after you during your surgery. One of their jobs is to make sure the correct operation is performed.
Will I see the anaesthetist before the operation?
Yes. The anaesthetist will meet you on the day of operation and make an assessment of any medical problems that you may have. They will also talk about the preparation for your surgery.
The anaesthetist will discuss the best type of anaesthetic for you, taking into account your health and your surgery.
What should I tell the anaesthetist?
The anaesthetist will want to know how healthy you are and if there are any particular problems that may affect this anaesthetic and surgery for example:
- Significant illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, epilepsy
- Problems with previous anaesthetics or operations
- Problems that blood relatives may have had with anaesthetics
- Allergies you may have
- Anything else you might think relevant such as loose teeth or how much you drink or smoke
- The medications you are taking
Please bring all your medication and inhalers into hospital with you.
Are there different types of anaesthetic?
Yes. With a general anaesthetic you will be asleep during your surgery. With local anaesthesia the area to be operated on is numbed with an injection. Epidural and spinal anaesthetics are given by an injection into your back (after first numbing your skin at the site of the injection with local anaesthetic). For some operations this could allow you to be awake or alternatively the epidural or spinal can be combined with a general anaesthetic or sedation so that you are asleep throughout the operation.
When will I be given the anaesthetic?
Once in the anaesthetic room, various monitors will be attached to you. These will measure your blood pressure and heart rate. Some oxygen may be given to you via a clear face mask before the anaesthetic. Your anaesthetic will then be given.
Usually a general anaesthetic is given by an injection into a vein in the back of the hand or arm. Sometimes anaesthetic gases are given via a facemask instead of an injection.
If your anaesthetist has decided to give you an epidural or spinal anaesthetic, this will also be given in the anaesthetic room.
Will I wake up in the middle of the operation?
If you are having a general anaesthetic this is extremely unlikely. The amount of anaesthetic gas in your breath is measured and monitored throughout your operation.
When and where will I wake up?
Most patients wake up in the recovery area although many do not remember anything until they are back on the ward.
Sometimes, following major operations, patients may be taken to the intensive care unit and are woken up a few hours later.
Wherever you are when waking up, there will be a doctor or nurse with you until you are fully awake.
Will I vomit or feel sick?
Most patients do not vomit or feel sick. If you do feel sick let the nurse know so that you can be given something to treat it.
If you were sick after any previous operations, let the anaesthetist know so that they can give you something to make sickness less likely this time.
Should I stop drinking and eating before the operation?
Yes. To make vomiting less likely and for your own safety we like to make sure that your stomach is empty before an anaesthetic is given. Please do not eat anything for at least 6 hours before your surgery. This includes chewing gum, eating or sucking sweets or drinking tea or coffee. You can drink water up to 2 hours before your surgery.
You will be given detailed instructions from the hospital about what time to stop eating or drinking.
Should I take my normal medication?
Yes. Please take your normal medication on the morning of your surgery unless you have been instructed not to by your consultant or the pre-assessment team.
If you are taking warfarin or other tablets to thin your blood you will need to discuss this with your surgeon or the pre-assessment nurse before admission.
Anaesthetics are very safe. However there is a risk with any surgery or anaesthetic no matter how minor. We work hard on minimising the risks to you.
Common side effects (about a 1 in 10 chance)
- Feeling sick or vomiting
- Sore throat
- Aches and pains
Uncommon but treatable complications (about a 1 in 1000 chance)
- Chest infection
- Medical problems (such as heart or lung conditions) getting worse
- Bladder problems
- Damage to your teeth such as chips or loosening
- Breathing problems
Rare complications (about a 1 in 10,000 chance)
- Serious but treatable allergy to a medication used during the operation
- Nerve damage, this is usually temporary
Very rare complications (about a 1 in 100,000 chance)
- Infection from a blood transfusion
If anything on this page worries you or you have questions that we have not answered please discuss with your anaesthetist or your pre-assessment nurse.
The Royal College of Anaesthetists