What is the difference between local and general anesthesia?

When talking about anesthesia, it is likely that “general” anesthesia comes to mind for most people. However, there are four different types of anesthesia: general, regional, local and sedation. Today we will discuss two common types of anesthesia and the differences between them.

What is general anesthesia?

General anesthesia is used during major operations and surgical procedures such as knee replacements, cancer operations and laparoscopies. It is administered by an anesthesiologist through a vein or face mask. When administering general anesthesia, it is important that the anesthesiologist monitors the patient closely to ensure that vitals stay within a healthy range throughout the procedure. 

A patient should be completely unconscious and unable to feel pain under general anesthesia. After the procedure is completed, the anesthesia is reversed so the patient can slowly come back to consciousness while still being monitored closely for any signs of troubling oxygen levels or other vital signs.

As a patient wakes up from general anesthesia, symptoms such as vomiting or nausea may occur, but can be managed with the help from a physician. A sore or dry throat may also occur if a breathing tube was placed in the patient during the operation, which is common for patients under general anesthesia.

General anesthesia can also take a few days to leave a patient’s system. So, symptoms like back aches, fatigue and slow reflexes may still be affecting the patient. Because these symptoms can limit the ability to make decisions or perform regular actions, physicians do not allow patients to drive within the first 24 hours of coming out of general anesthesia.

What is local anesthesia?

Local anesthesia is typically used for small procedures like skin tag removals or wound stitches. The local anesthetic is only used on the specific spot that is being operated on and does not cause a patient to go unconscious. However, the patient should not feel pain but rather pressure or some uncomfortable sensations. 

A local anesthetic is injected with a needle syringe, but a face mask is not used, unlike general anesthesia. Creams such as lidocaine are also used to numb part of the skin before procedures like blood draws or even cosmetic procedures.

The nausea and vomiting that may follow general anesthesia does not occur with a local anesthetic. Because patients are not sedated, procedures that require a local anesthetic are quicker and have a much shorter recovery. 

Local anesthesia is not used for major surgeries, but patients can speak with their doctors about their comfort level with being sedated or unconscious. Doctors can work with the patient to determine a solution that may use a local or regional anesthetic instead of general.

The difference

Clearly, local and general anesthesia are used in very different medical situations and can not commonly be interchangeable. If you are concerned about being injected with anesthesia, be sure to speak with your doctor for the best solutions or options for your procedure.