Anesthesia or anaesthesia (from Greek “without sensation”) is a state of controlled, temporary loss of sensation or awareness that is induced for medical purposes. It may include analgesia (relief from or prevention of pain), paralysis (muscle relaxation), amnesia (loss of memory), or unconsciousness. A patient under the effects of anesthetic drugs is referred to as being anesthetized.
Anesthesia enables the painless performance of medical procedures that would otherwise cause severe or intolerable pain to an unanesthetized patient, or would otherwise be technically unfeasible. Three broad categories of anesthesia exist:
General anesthesia suppresses central nervous system activity and results in unconsciousness and total lack of sensation.
Sedation suppresses the central nervous system to a lesser degree, inhibiting both anxiety and creation of long-term memories without resulting in unconsciousness.
Regional and local anesthesia, which block transmission of nerve impulses from a specific part of the body. Depending on the situation, this may be used either on its own (in which case the patient remains conscious), or in combination with general anesthesia or sedation. Drugs can be targeted at peripheral nerves to anesthetize an isolated part of the body only, such as numbing a tooth for dental work or using a nerve block to inhibit sensation in an entire limb. Alternatively, epidural or spinal anesthesia can be performed in the region of the central nervous system itself, suppressing all incoming sensation from nerves outside the area of the block.