Anesthesiology, one of the highest-paying medical specialties, is the branch of medicine that focuses on pain relief. Anesthesia is what makes surgical procedures and uncomfortable diagnostic tests tolerable for patients. If you want to work as an anesthesiologist, your work may take you into operating rooms, intensive care units, labor and delivery wards, medical testing centers and other healthcare facilities, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. These different settings require anesthesia for different purposes and, often, call for the skilled use of different types of pain-relieving medications. Anesthesiologists are responsible for safely and effectively administering general anesthesia, local anesthesia, regional anesthesia and IV sedation.
During a major surgery, patients certainly wouldn’t want to be awake. General anesthesia is the kind of anesthesia used to render patients unconscious, the American Society of Anesthesiologists reported. Often, general anesthesia is administered continuously as a combination of drugs, rather than one single medication. Medications in liquid form may be given intravenously, through lines inserted into the patient’s body, while those in gas form may be inhaled through a mask, the Mayo Clinic reported.
When an anesthesiologist administers general anesthesia, the patient is under their care before the procedure begins, throughout the surgery and after the procedure is wrapped up. The anesthesiologist or another member of the anesthesiology team, like a nurse anesthetist, monitors the patient’s breathing and vital signs during the procedure to ensure that the right amount of anesthetic is being used.
You might expect to undergo general anesthesia if you are having major surgery, such as heart surgeries, joint replacements or surgery to remove cancer from within the body, or if you are delivering a baby via emergency Cesarian section.
If general anesthesia is the most comprehensive form of surgical pain relief, local anesthesia is on the other end of the spectrum. Local anesthesia is used to numb only a small part of the body. It doesn’t put you to sleep or make you drowsy, the American Society of Anesthesiologists reported. The use of local anesthesia allows patients to tolerate procedures that would cause discomfort only in that one small part of the body, like getting stitches to close up a wound or undergoing a biopsy or the skin or breast. This is the kind of anesthesia most commonly used for procedures that are performed right in a physician’s office, rather than at a hospital or surgical center.
The administration of local anesthesia is performed differently from that of general anesthesia. Instead of continuous administration of medication, local anesthesia is usually applied just once, either topically or by injection, in a dosage amount that is intended to last the length of the procedure before it wears off naturally.
Local anesthesia carries less serious risks and is more commonly used by doctors outside of the special of anesthesiology. Dermatologists and even dentists administer local anesthesia.
The purpose of regional anesthesia is to numb a larger part of the body than local anesthesia, but it doesn’t induce drowsiness or loss of consciousness like general anesthesia does. This type of anesthesia may be best known for its use in childbirth. Epidurals are a form of regional anesthesia commonly used in the management of pain during labor and delivery, while spinal blocks are performed on mothers whose babies are being delivered through non-emergency C-sections.
However, regional anesthesia has plenty of other uses, as well. Anesthesiologists may use regional anesthesia for any procedure during which patients should be awake and alert but that calls for more extensive numbing than would be practical to attempt with local anesthesia only. This type of anesthesia is a common choice for surgeries performed on the limbs but can even be used when performing abdominal surgeries, the American Society of Anesthesiologists reported.
Generally, the more extensive numbing required, the greater the risks of anesthesia. Patients may not exactly want to be awake for surgery, but this using regional anesthesia typically presents fewer risks, and patients begin feeling more like themselves sooner.
In addition to these three main types of anesthesia, anesthesiologists may also administer sedatives through an IV line that can help a patient to relax. IV sedation doesn’t achieve the same level of loss of consciousness that general anesthesia does, but – depending on the amount used and the purpose of sedating the patient – it can make patients feel drowsy or completely put them to sleep, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
Endoscopies and colonoscopies routinely involve sedating a patient for their comfort during the procedure.