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What Are the Uses of Anesthesia for Pain Management?

Anesthesia is used to sedate or fully put a patient to sleep prior to surgery or certain medical procedures to manage pain.
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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
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The use of anesthesia for pain management is usually restricted for use during procedures which would normally cause extreme pain. This includes inpatient and outpatient surgeries. Occasionally, less invasive procedures may also require anesthesia, such as dental work, but it is generally avoided when a lesser pain management medication would be sufficient for preventing or relieving pain.

Doctors do not give anesthesia for pain management routinely in patients who are not having an operation. While it is used even for minor surgeries, anesthesia carries a real risk of complications which may include death in severe cases. There are three main types of anesthesia: general, regional, and local anesthesia. General anesthesia is normally use only for procedures which require a patient to be put to sleep, such as a major surgery. Regional anesthesia numbs a large area of the body, but doesn't affect the brain. Local anesthesia is commonly used for lesser surgeries, such as with dental work or inpatient procedures.

When using anesthesia for pain relief, patients cannot feel anything in the area the anesthesia is used. General anesthesia is usually administered either through having the patient inhale it, or it can be injected into a vein through an intravenous line. This is the most invasive, and risky, type of anesthesia. Patients are unconscious and often wake up with little or no memory of the surgery and sometimes even for a period after surgery. Although rare, complications can occur with general anesthesia, so it is not used unless absolutely necessary.

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Regional anesthesia may allow patients to remain awake during procedures. It is injected into a vein or the spine during a procedure so that only a portion of the person's body is numbed to sensation. An epidural, commonly used during childbirth, is one example of regional anesthesia for pain management. The side effects of using regional anesthesia are usually less severe than general anesthesia, although in very rare cases paralysis can occur.

The use of local anesthesia for pain management is far more common since it is injected only in areas directly around the space being operated on. Dental work may require a local anesthetic, as may the removal of warts and other skin eruptions and other minor surgeries. Side effects are usually mild when using local anesthesia for pain management, although the skin may be numb for awhile even after the operating is done. How long this lasts will depend on how much and which medication was used and in what dosage.

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