Anaesthesia, literally meaning without sense, is the process of making patients unaware of sensation during a medical procedure or surgical operation. There are several ways that anaesthesia can be performed and sometimes more than one technique may be used together. The main types of anaesthesia include:

  • General anaesthesia
  • Neuraxial anaesthesia (spinal and/or epidural)
  • Regional anaesthesia (nerve blocks)
  • Local anaesthesia
  • Sedation

Your anaesthestist will recommend the safest anaesthestic for you taking into consideration your health and the procedure you are having.

Types of Anaesthesia

General anaesthesia

Often referred to as ‘going to sleep’, this is the most common type of anaesthetic used. Most commonly the anaesthetist will insert a cannula (a fine plastic tube) into a vein and inject the anaesthetic medication through this. Another method is to breathe anaesthestic gas through a mask. After becoming unconscious, the anaesthestist monitors the condition of the patient and provides care for the duration of the procedure and into the recovery ward.

Neuraxial anaesthesia (spinal and/or epidural)

This type of anaesthesia involves an injection of local anaesthetic around the nerves in the back, numbing these nerves as they pass to the lower body and legs. It is used for procedures in the lower body and legs such as orthopaedic (bone) operations and caesarean sections. It can also be used to treat pain following an operation on the chest or abdomen and for women in labour. Sedation is also often used.

Local anaesthesia and regional anaesthesia

An injection of local anaesthetic can be used to numb an area of skin, or, if injected near a nerve, can numb the area the nerve or nerves go to; this could be an arm, a leg or almost any part of your body. These types of anaesthesia are an excellent way of providing anaesthesia for minor procedures (such as removing skin cancers) or more major procedures that are limited to specific area of the body (usually a limb). They can be utilized to provide pain relief, temporarily or for a longer period by inserting a small plastic tube where further doses of local anaesthetic can be given. Sedation can often also be given with these types of anaesthesia if you prefer.


For many procedures, a full general anaesthetic is not necessary and sedation is given instead. This type of anaesthesia involves inserting a cannula (a fine plastic tube) into a vein and injecting low doses of anaesthetic medication through this. Patients under sedation are relaxed and sleepy and usually have little or no recollection of the procedure.

Originally anaesthesia meant making patients either unconscious or numb during an operation. There are several types of anaesthetic which have been refined over the years and which may be used separately or in combination depending on the operation or procedure being performed. These include general anaesthesia (where the patient is unconscious), sedation, local anaesthesia, neuraxial anaesthesia (spinal and/or epidural) and regional blocks.