Doctor Decoded: The 3 Main Types of Anesthesia

Local. Regional. General. Here’s what these anesthesia terms mean.

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You found out you need to have a procedure done and your doctor says, “You’ll be receiving regional anesthesia.” Before you’ve even processed the “procedure” part, you stop in your mind tracks to try and digest this other lingo that was just thrown at you: Wait … I’m getting regi- ane- what now?

Let’s break it down.

Anesthesia is a medical treatment that prevents you from feeling pain during surgery.

There are three main types of anesthesia: local, regional, and general. Depending on the type of pain relief needed, anesthetics may be administered by injection, inhalation, topical lotion, spray, eye drops, or skin patch.

Both local and regional anesthesia numb a part of the body and allow you to stay awake during the procedure.

Local anesthesia numbs smaller parts of the body, such as your mouth during a dental surgery or a section of the skin during a wart removal.

Regional anesthesia numbs larger areas of the body, such as your arm during a joint surgery or your lower body during a C-section.

General anesthesia affects the entire body. With general anesthesia, patients are unconscious and unable to move. This is often used for surgery on internal organs or other invasive or time-consuming procedures, such as open-heart surgery or brain surgery.

Anesthesia is very safe, and without it, many major life-saving procedures would not be possible. Every year, millions of people safely undergo surgery with anesthesia, allowing them to get the care they need to live healthier, longer lives. (Although it wasn’t always as streamlined as it is today: Learn more about the creepy history of anesthesia here.)