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Anesthesia in modern medicine



Medical doctor

There’s a good chance you’ve undergone general anesthetic at some point, whether for something as ordinary as having your wisdom teeth removed or something more complex such as organ-related surgery.

Regardless of the context of your surgery, you would have felt woozy, disassociated, and stimulating effects of anesthetic for some time after – but you absolutely would not have handled all of the ordinarily excruciating things that occurred during the operation (but you may very well afterward).

Anesthetic has been used in its various forms for over a century in modern medicine, but how does it work correctly? In this blog, we examine the fascinating effects that anesthetic can have on the human body.

The origin of anesthetic

Before we were fortunate enough to have access to anesthetic drugs in modern medicine, doctors in the pre-mid-nineteenth century were relegated to using numbing agents such as alcohol and opium – this was even if they had to saw of gangrenous limbs, the pain of which even opium wouldn’t be able to mask. The first instance of a general anesthetic – diethyl ether – was used in 1846 in a publicly demonstrated operation involving the removal of a tumor.

While ether and chloroform (another popular anesthetic used at the time) were useful, an issue lay in how easy it was for a patient to die from the anesthetic itself. For this reason, these substances had to be very carefully measured before each operation.

Even still, being administered via a soaked sponge under the nose didn’t exactly make it easy to control the dose. Thankfully, it was in the twentieth century that the introduction of advanced airway techniques (such as tracheal intubation) improved the efficacy and safety of anesthetic drugs.

The anesthetic in modern medicine

Anesthetic and related techniques in contemporary medicine are highly efficient, with few side-effects (particularly as compared to the nineteenth century!). In modern medicine, there are two types of anesthesia drugs that are applied depending on the situation. These are general anesthetic (used to anesthetize the entire body for things like operations) and local anesthetic (used to numb particular areas, such as when you go to the dentist).

Local anesthetics, such as novocaine, work by blocking nerve signals from sites across the body that would otherwise be informing your brain of the pain.  In the case of general anesthesia, such as nitrous oxide and ether derivatives, patients will be completely unaware of their surroundings after being put under.

This is useful for managing things such as blood pressure, stress hormone release, and heart rate during the procedure, as these can drastically affect the outcome of the surgery otherwise.

A crucial part of modern medicine

Despite anesthesiologists understanding the dosages of ether derivatives like isoflurane, sevoflurane, and desflurane when administering them to patients, anesthesia is still a bit of a mystery in the world of modern medicine.

The actual mechanisms related to how general anesthetics work still not adequately understood. Yet, it has been found that the cerebral cortex, thalamus, reticular activating system, and spinal cord are parts of the central nervous system that are changed while under the influence of the general anesthetic.

But at the end of the day, this shouldn’t concern you, or any other patient. We recommend you be happy that anesthetics exist and work so effectively!