Angie's LIST Guide to
What an anesthesiologist does
Anesthesiology is the field of medicine that involves administering anesthetics, such as pain blockers and sedatives. The specialists that administer this medication are called anesthesiologists.
Anesthesia is administered before most surgeries. Depending on the type of procedure, anesthesia might be administered during and after surgery as well.
Some nonsurgical procedures also require the use of anesthesia, especially for rather uncomfortable ones like childbirth or a colonoscopy. For some patients, particularly those suffering from severe pain caused by a debilitating disease or injury, anesthesia might also be used as a pain management technique. Some anesthesiologists specialize in administering anesthetics for the sole purpose of pain management.
To become an anesthesiologist, a person must complete a four-year premed degree program, graduate from an accredited medical school and complete an anesthesiology residency. To pursue a specific area within this field, an additional fellowship is required.
Types of anesthesia
There are three main types of anesthesia: local, regional and general anesthesia.
Localized anesthesia involves injecting an anesthetic, or numbing agent, into the tissue of a specific body part. This completely numbs that body part, making it much more bearable for the patient when the doctor performs a minor surgical procedure.
Doctors use regional anesthesia to numb an entire region of the body. To do this, they inject anesthetic into a bundle of nerves, completely blocking all pain sensations from reaching the area below that bundle. One example of a regional anesthesia is an epidural, which is most commonly used during both vaginal childbirth and Cesarean sections.
Anesthesiologists typically use general anesthesia during major surgical procedures. They administer this type of anesthesia either by injection or inhalation. Anesthesiologists might use a syringe to inject general anesthesia into a vein, for instance, or they may request that the patient inhales a special gas. Under general anesthesia, patients are completely unconscious and are difficult to wake up.
Sedating patients is also often an anesthesiologist's responsibility. The levels can range anywhere from light to heavy sedation. Patients under light sedation can usually be roused easily; they also can be conscious. Doctors use this type of sedation simply to "take the edge off." On the other hand, patients under moderate to heavy sedation are difficult to rouse, and some may even require breathing aids. The level of sedation used will typically depend on the procedure being performed.
Specializing doctors are an important part of surgical teams today. Other than administering anesthesia, these specialists work alongside surgeons and assist them during procedures.
Before you go under, an anesthesiologist will typically arrange an interview with you after speaking with the surgeons, if the situation allows it. During this interview, he or she will discuss your medical history as well as family medical history. You may have a brief physical screening at this point. The anesthesiologist will try to determine whether you or any members or your immediate family has ever had a bad reaction to any sort of anesthesia. He or she will also ensure that you don't have any allergies because an allergy to anesthetics is dangerous and sometimes fatal.
An anesthesiologist will explain some of the risks of anesthesia and give you instructions for the days prior to the procedure. For example, patients are usually instructed not to eat or drink anything several hours prior to being administered, as this can cause severe nausea and vomiting.
Once an anesthesiologist administers the medication, he or she will help monitor the patient during the procedures. The specialist will usually monitor you after your procedure to ensure that you don't have any serious adverse reactions to the anesthetics and, if this should happen, to assist other doctors.
When you recover from the anesthesia, an anesthesiologist will usually check your condition and clear you to go home. Due to the lingering effects of anesthesia, patients are usually urged to avoid driving themselves and instead arrange for alternate transportation.