Which To Pick: Local Vs General Anesthesia

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Going into surgery can be pretty daunting, even if it’s for an exciting and long-awaited plastic surgery procedure. Some patients are so nervous about their procedures that they choose to go under general anesthesia, so long as they don’t have to be aware of anything that is happening.

At HZPS, we offer both general anesthesia and local anesthesia with sedation for most of our procedures. This usually depends on how extensive the surgery is. For example, larger scale plastic surgeries such as breast augmentations, brachioplasties, thigh lifts, and tummy tucks are usually done under general anesthesia.

But, when a procedure is smaller, or only optional for general anesthesia, is it better to stick with local anesthesia with sedation or to opt for heavier duty general anesthesia? Read more to learn about the benefits of local vs general anesthesia.

What Is General Anesthesia?

When a patient undergoes general anesthesia, they are given a mix of drugs that put the patient into a very deep sleep and paralyzes their body. To continue normal bodily functions, the patient is placed on a respirator and an endotracheal tube is placed in the throat to assist with breathing.

Under this state, the patient is not able to feel, see, or recognize anything that is happening to them, which for some people can be very comforting. Afterward, they are not able to remember anything about the procedure.

Unfortunately, the risk for complications is greater under general anesthesia, and patients are much more likely to experience side effects such as a sore throat from the tube, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Recovery is also more extensive after a surgery with general anesthesia, since the body has to recover from the anesthesia as well as from the surgery. Typically, it is necessary to stay at the outpatient facility for at least 24 hours to recover from the effects of the general anesthesia.

Like previously stated, some procedures require general anesthesia, simply because of the scope of the surgery, and the need for a more general body paralysis for operation.

What Is Local Anesthesia?

When a patient undergoes local anesthesia, they are put under intravenous (IV) sedation and the area being operated on is numbed. Though the patient remains awake and technically aware, they are also very sedated and comfortable due to the light mix of drugs.

In this state, a patient may talk to the surgeon and nurses, answer questions, and relay any feelings of physical discomfort. Despite being aware, the patient will feel no pain in the area being worked on, although they may feel some pulling or tugging.

Under local anesthesia with sedation, the body does not undergo any extra stress and is therefore typically considered the safer alternative. Side effects may include some dizziness, nausea, bruising, redness, itching, or swelling near the site of the anesthesia injection.

Local Vs. General Anesthesia

Weighing the benefits of local vs. general anesthesia is very important,and it’s definitely a conversation that patients should have with their doctors before undergoing plastic surgery. Knowing which sedation option is right for you may come down to what procedure you are having, how comfortable you are with the procedure, the process of recovery, or the cost of sedation. Whatever the reason is, or if you are still deciding, here are some pros and cons to consider.

Pros: General Anesthesia

  • Completely experience free. Patient is not able to feel, see, hear, or experience the procedure in any way.

  • Allows for complete relaxation and proper muscle relaxation for long periods of time.  

  • Facilitates complete control of airways, breathing, and circulation through artificial respirators

Cons: General Anesthesia

  • Puts body under stress

  • Increased risk for complications during procedure

  • Longer recovery time after procedure

  • Greater side effects – fatigue, nausea, vomiting, sore throat

Pros: Local Anesthesia

  • Puts a lot less stress on the body

  • Allows for patient and surgeon interaction during procedure

  • Requires less recovery time

  • Doesn’t require total body paralysis

  • Patient remains aware but feels no pain or discomfort.

Cons: Local Anesthesia

  • Some side effects including, nausea, vomiting, and sore throat

  • Possible discomfort during the operation in areas not under anesthesia

  • Light sensitivity

  • Low blood pressure

  • Stiff neck

More Information

If you are in the process of choosing your plastic surgery, or if you are looking to undergo a plastic surgery in the near future, be sure to ask what type of anesthetic the procedure requires, or if you can choose. Before choosing, make sure to ask your surgeon about the benefits and contraindication for each anesthetic and which would be right for you.