General Anesthesia



General anesthesia is the use of medications to put the entire body to sleep. It puts you into a state of unconsciousness. During this time, the brain cannot feel any pain.

Doctors trained in anesthesia carefully balance the amount of medication needed by keeping an eye on vital signs.

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
  • Lung infections
  • Anesthesia awareness—a rare complication where the patient becomes aware during the surgery
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack

Certain factors can increase your risk of complications. Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors such as:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • 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 


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.

Pollard R, Coyle J, Gilbert R, Beck J. Intraoperative awareness in a regional medical system: A review of 3 years' data. Anesthesiology. 2007;106(2)269-274.

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