Nursing caring for a patient in Vancouver General Hospital

How to use this patient guide

This guide is for patients who will be undergoing anesthesia and for their families and caregivers. It is designed to help you understand how to prepare for anesthesia, what to expect on your day of surgery, as well as the important role you play in your recovery. You may also receive additional information on what to expect for your specific procedure or surgery from your health-care team.

  • This website resource is intended to be generic and applies to most people undergoing anesthesia. On the day of surgery, the Anesthesiologist will finalize your care plan with you and explain the details that are relevant to you specifically. 
  • Any quoted information on this website is 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. 

What are anesthetics?

Anesthetics block signals in the nervous system and stop pain messages travelling from the body to the brain. There are three types of anesthesia:

  • local and regional anesthesia, which both numb a specific part of the body.
  • sedation is a spectrum of anesthesia. On one of the spectrum you may be lightly sedated (aware of the procedure but kept comfortable) and on the other end of the spectrum you could be heavily sedated (unaware of the procedure and safely monitored).
  • general anesthesia, which makes you unconscious (completely asleep). 

Sometimes patients will get more than one type of anesthesia. The type of anesthetic used will depend on what surgery of procedure is happening as well your age and what medical conditions you have. Your anesthetist will be able to explain and discuss the options with you before surgery.