General Anesthesia



General anesthesia puts the entire body to sleep with the use of medications. It is a state of unconsciousness. During this time, the brain cannot feel any pain. It is often used for certain types of surgery or for a procedure that would make you uncomfortable if you were awake.

Doctors trained in anesthesia (anesthesiologists) carefully balance the amount of anesthesia medications given by closely monitoring the body’s functions. Medications are used to:

  • Prevent pain
  • Relax the muscles
  • Regulate bodily functions

Possible Complications

Every precaution is used to prevent complications. Often, medications are given in advance to prevent certain problems, such as nausea and vomiting. Even so, complications may occur. These may include:

  • Allergic reaction to anesthetic used
  • Nerve damage or skin breakdown from positioning on the operating table
  • Sore throat or damage to throat, teeth, or vocal cords
  • Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
    • Lung infections
    • Stroke
    • Heart attack
    • Anesthesia awareness—a rare complication where the patient becomes aware during the surgery

Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Chronic disease such as diabetes or obesity



This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Anesthesia, General)


American Association of Nurse Anesthetists 

American Society of Anesthesiologists 


Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society 

Health Canada https://www. 


Anesthesia—what to expect. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: Updated September 2015. Accessed October 2, 2017.

General anesthesia. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: Updated August 2015. Accessed October 2, 2017.

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Sackel DJ. Anesthesia awareness: an analysis of its incidence, the risk factors involved, and prevention. J Clin Anesth. 2006;18(7):483-485.