VIDEO: The benefits of regional anaesthesia over a general are explored.

EVOLVING technologies have allowed more surgeries to be carried out using regional anaesthetic. 

Yet many people do not know it is an option, a local expert says.

Dr Mark Davies, John Hunter Hospital’s senior staff specialist anaesthetist, said many surgeries could be carried out by numbing a specific area with a regional block, rather than knocking out a patient with a general anaesthetic.

Some surgeries achieve better results with local anaesthetic.

Some surgeries achieve better results with local anaesthetic.

National Anaethesia Day

Dr Davies said he hoped National Anaesthesia Day on Monday would make more people aware that regional anaesthetic was often less risky, and offered a faster recovery and profound pain relief for patients.

“General anaesthesia is not sleep, it is more akin to a chemical coma,” Dr Davies said on Monday.

“You make a person unconscious with medications and then you constantly maintain their cardiac function and their blood pressure and ventilation. 

With regional anaesthesia, all you really do is selectively numb the body part that requires surgery.”

“The recovery from doing that is much quicker, because there is not as much to recover from, and you also have the benefit of a very profound form of pain relief.”

Dr Davies said doctors should not have to worry about how a patient’s heart and lungs were functioning under a general if only an arm or a leg needed to be numb for the surgery.

He said hand and eye surgeries, for example, could easily be done with regional blocks.

Patients were often anxious about seeing or feeling something if they were awake during surgery.

But sedation could also be offered as a way to calm anxiety.

“We have routinely used regional anaesthesia techniques in obstetrics surgery for a long time – most women having a c-section have it under spinal anaesthetic,” Dr Davies said.

“Also, with eye surgery, most people having cataracts removed will be awake throughout the surgery. 

“In the past 10 years we have been able to provide a lot more nerve blocks using ultrasound technology which weren’t available 20 or 30 years ago.”

Dr Davies said certain operations would always require a general anaesthetic – such as surgeries involving the heart, lungs, and the upper abdomen, but a lot of peripheral surgery could be done under regional anaesthesia, which reduced associated risks.

“These options should be discussed with your surgeon or the anaesthetist,” he said.

- Anita Beaumont