Surgeons applying anesthesia to patient

Local, Regional, General, and Everything in Between: The Different Types of Anesthesia, Explained

Posted on 06/03/19 by Allied Anesthesia

Patients frequently ask us about the difference between the types of anesthesia available, how each kind is used, and what we recommend for specific procedures. For example, we’re often asked, “Do I need local or regional anesthesia?” or “What’s the difference between general anesthesia and twilight?”

To answer those questions and many others, we’ve developed this easy-to-understand guide to local, regional, and general anesthesia, how they’re used, and what to expect.

Local Anesthesia

What It Does: Temporarily numbs a small portion of the body for outpatient or minor procedures
Administered Via: Injection or topical application
Patient Status: Conscious
May Be Administered With: Sedative for relaxation or sleep
Side Effects: Numbness, weakness, tingling

Regional Anesthesia

Also Known As: Regional nerve block, conscious sedation
What It Does: Temporarily blocks pain in the portion of the body that will be affected by the procedure
Administered Via: Injection in a cluster of nerves (e.g., spinal, epidural)
Patient Status: Conscious or, in some cases, asleep if sedatives are also used
May Be Administered With: Sedative for relaxation or sleep
Side Effects: Numbness, weakness

General Anesthesia

Also Known As: Deep sleep, twilight
What It Does: Keeps patient unconscious and still throughout procedure with no awareness of pain or memory of the event
Administered Via: Breathing mask or IV
Patient Status: Unconscious
May Be Administered With: Sedatives for relaxation, breathing tube
Side Effects: Depends on type of anesthetic used, but side effects can include nausea, fatigue, irritability

A Closer Look at Anesthesia vs. Sedation

Anesthesia, as a general term, typically refers to two different types of drugs: anesthetics, which reduce or prevent pain by impacting the nervous system, and sedatives, which relax patients and, depending on the dosage, can keep them “asleep” during a procedure and unable to feel, hear, move, or remember the event.

While terms like “conscious sedation” and “twilight” are widely used in the medical field, there are some misconceptions about how they are related to general anesthesia.

If a patient is asleep and cannot respond to commands, they are under general anesthesia. If a patient is conscious and can respond to commands but cannot feel pain, they are “consciously sedated” (using a sedative) and an anesthetic has also been used, either regionally or locally, to block or prevent pain.

“Twilight” is general anesthesia, though some healthcare practitioners may use it to refer to general anesthesia that has fewer side effects (grogginess, fatigue, nausea, etc.) than other general anesthesia. The difference in side effects is typically a result of the amount and type of medication used.

At Allied Anesthesia, we prefer to use the sedative propofol for general anesthesia. When administered by experts, propofol allows patients to wake up with virtually no lasting side effects. Plus, most patients can breathe on their own when receiving propofol, so we can avoid intubation entirely.

Ultimately, the type of anesthesia used for any given procedure is determined based on a number of factors, including patient health and the procedure itself, but now that you know a little more about your options, don’t hesitate to discuss them with your doctor.


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