General anesthesia

This website resource describes what you can generally expect if you are undergoing general anesthesia at Vancouver General Hospital or UBC Hospital. 

Related:   Patient guide to anesthesia   

What to expect during general anesthesia

Your general anesthesia will be performed by an anesthesiologist. Anesthesiologists are specialist doctors who have undergone many years of training to perform this procedure.

Before the procedure

The anesthesiologist who is doing your anesthetic on the day of your surgery will finalize your care plan with you before the procedure starts. Your treating anesthesiologist will discuss what they believe is the best way to care for you during your procedure. They’ll discuss with you what their plan for the anesthetic involves and answer any questions you have. This final care plan may be somewhat different from what was discussed if you attended a Pre-Admission Clinic and what is outlined in the information on what to expect before surgery on this website. 

You will also have an opportunity to ask any questions you have prior to the procedure.

After you’ve changed into a patient gown, one of the nurses in the pre-operative areas will place an intravenous line (IV) and put monitoring on you. 

When the room is ready for you, you will be taken to the operating room. All of the people involved in your surgery will have a routine safety briefing discussion. 

When you arrive in the operating room, this is what will happen:

  • You’ll be attached to monitoring
  • A team briefing with all of the people involved in your operation will occur
  • You’ll be asked to breathe on an oxygen mask
  • Your anesthesiologist will then give you medication through your intravenous line that makes you unconscious for your procedure. After you are asleep, they will place a breathing tube
  • Depending on the procedure you are having, they will place extra intravenous and monitoring lines. These can be placed before or after starting the general anesthetic depending on your health. They will stay with you the whole time during surgery to make sure you are safe and comfortable.  

After the procedure

When your surgery is over, you'll be taken to the recovery room where specialist recovery nurses will carefully look after you. They will ensure you are comfortable before you go to the ward or go home. 

Side effects of general anesthesia

Very common

These side effects happen to more than 1 in 10 people. This is equivalent to one person in a family. 

  • Sickness (Nausea and Vomiting)
  • Shivering
  • Thirst
  • Sore Throat
  • Bruising
  • Temporary memory loss (mainly in those over 60 years of age)


These side effects happen to between 1 in 10 and 1 in 100 people. 

  • This is equivalent to one person in a street
  • Pain at site of injection
  • Minor lip or tongue injury


Between 1 in 100 and 1 in 1,000

This is equivalent to one person in a small village

  • Minor nerve injury


Between 1 in 1,000 and 1 In 10,000

This is equivalent to one person in a small town

  • ​1 in 10,000 people - Severe allergic reaction to a drug (Anaphylaxis)
  • 1 in 4,500 people - Damage to teeth requiring treatment
  • 1 in 2,800 people - Scratch on eye (Corneal abrasion)
  • 1 in 1,000 people - Peripheral nerve damage that is permanent

Very rare

1 in 10,000 to 1 in 100,000 people.

This is equivalent to one person in a large town or city

  • 1:100,000 people - Death as a direct result of anesthesia
  • 1 in 20,000 people- Awareness during an anesthetic
  • 1 in 100,000 people - Loss of vision

Website resource disclaimer

Quoted risks on this website resource are for the general population.  Your personal risk may differ somewhat from the general population, depending on your medical history and what type of surgery you are having.  All patients will have the chance to discuss their personal risks and benefits related to having an anesthetic and surgery with their care providers prior to their procedure.  

This general anesthesia resource includes text taken from the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) leaflet ‘Common events and risks in anaesthesia 2019’ but the RCoA has not reviewed this as a whole.

More about anesthesia

Preparing for anesthesia before surgery

Epidural anesthesia

Spinal anesthesia

Nerve blocks

Monitored anesthetic care