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What is Anesthesiology?

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Anesthesiology is the medical practice that deals with the relief of pain and surgical patient care. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) over 40 million anesthetics are given to patients in the U.S. alone. Anesthetic is given to patients undergoing surgery, non-surgical procedures, and children undergoing non-surgical procedures where administering anesthesia makes the procedure safer.

Anesthesiologists are doctors specializing in anesthesia. Requirements to become a doctor of anesthesia include medical school, a four year anesthesiology residency, and an optional year in a sub-specialty fellowship. Nurse anesthetists or CRNAs are licensed independent practitioners and may hold the title of anesthesia practitioners. These professionals may administer anesthesia under certain guidelines and specialize in patient care during anesthesia and surgery.

Anesthesiology includes the use of:

  • General anesthesia - This type of anesthesia causes unconsciousness. General anesthesia is administered for many surgical procedures and requires a breathing apparatus and monitoring for heart and lung function.
  • Sedation - Sedation is given when less invasive procedures are performed. With light sedation, patients can be aroused and are able to breathe without assistance.
  • Regional anesthesia - Regional anesthesia involves local medications used to block nerves for a variety of surgical procedures.
  • Epidural - With an epidural, a catheter is placed in the spine which numbs the nerves involved.
  • Spinal - A spinal is similar to an epidural but is done by injection of medication into the spinal nerves to block nerves, rather than through a catheter.

An anesthesiologist will do a pre-examination to check breathing, heart function, and lung capacity. Expect your anesthesiologist to explain the benefits and risks of certain drugs before administering medication. It is important that an anesthesiologist know a patient's medical history. Allergies, medications, previous surgeries, and reactions to medication in the past are all factors in determining how a patient will respond to certain anesthetics.

Be sure to find out more about your anesthesia and your surgery:

  • Discuss what type of anesthetic is best for you.
  • Eating and drinking right before a surgery may cause an adverse reaction when combined with certain anesthetics.
  • You may need to stop taking certain medications before surgery.
  • Find out what will happen after surgery: When will you wake up? How should you expect to feel? What can you do to make things easier post-surgery?

Anesthesiologists or anesthesia practitioners stay with their patients during surgery to monitor bodily functions. Depending on the type of medication, they may modify the anesthesia to provide comfort and safety. Be sure your anesthesiologist is qualified and willing to discuss your treatment. Look for a doctor with a good bedside manner and ask questions specific to your health and safety.

Related topics: Pain Management, Oncology, Board Certification

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