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General Anesthesia

Why is general anesthesia used?

Anesthesia prevents your child from feeling pain during a surgical or medical procedure or test. Anesthesia can affect the whole body (general), an arm or leg (regional) or a small part of the body (local). General anesthesia relaxes the muscles, puts your child to sleep, and prevents him from feeling pain. It will also prevent him from remembering the operation. The anesthetic may be given intravenously (a slow drip through a needle into the vein, called IV), or as a gas that is inhaled through a breathing mask plus IV medicines.

What should you do before general anesthesia?

Follow the instructions you are given by your child's healthcare provider. General diet guidelines before anesthesia include:

  • Do not give your child formula 4 hours before your child is to have anesthesia. (Do not use cereal in formula. Cereal is considered solid food.)
  • Do not give your child solid food, milk, and juice with pulp by midnight the night before the procedure. This includes candy, gum, pudding, and applesauce.
  • Do not give your child breast milk 3 hours before anesthesia.
  • Do not give your child clear liquids 2 hours before anesthesia. Clear liquids include juices, popsicles, sports drinks and gelatin. Milk products are not clear liquids.

If your child complains of being hungry, give him clear liquids until 2 hours before the procedure. It helps to keep him away from other children who are eating. It is important to watch your child carefully to make sure that he does not sneak food, such as pieces of cereal or candy.

Ask your provider if your child should take his morning prescription medicines. If your child uses an inhaler or nebulizer, give treatments as usual.

What should you expect after your child has general anesthesia?

In the recovery room, your child may be on oxygen and have an IV. Nurses will check your child's heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, oxygen reading, and temperature regularly.

Children recover from anesthesia in different ways. Some are wide awake almost immediately. Other children are groggy for hours. Some children are very confused, and may cry and be upset for several minutes to an hour after the procedure. They are not really aware of what is going on. The nurses will make sure that your child is OK and not in pain. Sometimes, a quiet, dark room can help the child go back to sleep. Act calmly, speak softly, and comfort your child. Most children do not remember this even though they may seem to be awake.

Once your child is truly awake, he may start eating. Infants may receive their usual formula or breast-feeding. For older children, it helps to avoid foods high in fat or protein for the first day or so. Anesthesia may cause nausea and vomiting for several hours. Unless otherwise instructed, you may give your child his usual medicines later in the day.

Your child may still be a little sleepy or clumsy for the next 24 hours, so you will need to be careful.

  • Have someone watch your child while riding in the car on the way home. If your child falls asleep at any time in the next 6 hours, watch him or her all the time to make sure that your child has no trouble breathing.
  • Help your child with walking for the next 4 hours.
  • Give extra head support when holding infants and young children.
  • Do not allow your child to do any activity that takes coordination, such as riding a bike, tricycle, scooter, or skateboard for the next 24 hours.
  • Do not allow your child to drive any motorized vehicle (such as an ATV) for 24 hours. Children are generally able to return to school 24 hours after anesthesia. Follow any other instructions given by your healthcare provider for further care.

Call your healthcare provider or 911 immediately if:

  • your child cannot sit or walk
  • your child still seems too sleepy or confused after 4 to 6 hours
  • it is hard to wake up your child
  • your child develops labored breathing or is breathing much more slowly than normal
  • your child looks gray or blue
  • you have any questions or concerns.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-08-13
Last reviewed: 2009-07-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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