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Types of anaesthesia

Local anaesthesia

A local anaesthetic numbs a small part of your body. It is used when the nerves can easily be reached by drops, sprays, ointments or injections. You stay conscious but free from pain.

Regional anaesthesia

Regional anaesthesia can be used for operations on larger or deeper parts of the body. Local anaesthetic drugs are injected near to the bundles of nerves which carry signals from that area of the body to the brain.The most common regional anaesthetics (also known as regional ‘blocks’) are spinal and epidural anaesthetics. These can be used for operations on the lower body such as caesarean sections, bladder operations or replacing a hip joint. You stay conscious but free from pain.

General anaesthesia

General anaesthesia is a state of controlled unconsciousness during which you feel nothing and may be described as ‘anaesthetised’. This is essential for some operations and may be used as an alternative to regional anaesthesia for others. Anaesthetic drugs injected into a vein, or anaesthetic gases breathed into the lungs, are carried to the brain by the blood.

They stop the brain recognising messages coming from the nerves in the body.

Combining types of anaesthesia

Anaesthetic drugs and techniques are often combined. For example:

  • a regional anaesthetic may be given as well as a general anaesthetic to provide pain relief after the operation

  • sedation may be used with a regional anaesthetic

  • the regional or local anaesthetic prevents you from feeling pain, and the sedation makes you feel drowsy and mentally relaxed during the operation.


Sedation is the use of small amounts of anaesthetic or similar drugs to produce a ‘sleepy-like’ state. It makes you physically and mentally relaxed during an investigation or procedure which may be unpleasant or painful (such as an endoscopy). You may remember a little about what happened or you may remember nothing. Sedation may be used by other healthcare professionals as well as anaesthetists. If you are having a regional or local anaesthetic, you may want to ask for some sedation as well. 

Useful Documentation

This document will be given to you prior to your operation.

Source: The Royal College of Anaesthetists