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Anesthesia Options in Plastic Surgery

One of the most common questions and concerns when one decides to undergo plastic surgery is what type of anesthesia will be used. Many people have misconceptions about anesthesia. Some believe that the procedure would be ‘safer’ if one does not have a ‘general anesthetic’. Others have been put to sleep before for other surgeries and had a difficult time after surgery with nausea, vomiting or feelings of prolonged disorientation or tiredness.

Anesthesia, of some kind, is of course needed for any operation. Anesthesia provides comfort from pain and reduces or eliminates one’s awareness. Based on one’s medical history and the type of surgical procedure, your plastic surgeon may recommend local, sedation or general anesthesia.

Local anesthesia refers to injecting around the surgical site to make it numb and reduce bleeding. With good nerve blocks and local infiltration, it is amazing what can be done under just local anesthesia. Many Smartlipo procedures, for example, can be done under local anesthesia which uses a special type of infiltrating solution. However, local anesthesia is most widely used for certain types of facial procedures but its use is quite limited in larger body areas. Because its effects last around an hour or so, the procedure should be capable of being done in that time. If it takes a lot longer, it will be more comfortable to consider more significant methods of anesthesia. If a procedure can be done comfortably under a local anesthetic, costs of the procedure will be reduced because the services of  an anesthesiologist will not be needed.

Some local anesthetic procedures are made more comfortable through the use of sedation medications. Sedation is known by a host of terms such as twilight sleep or conscious sedation. Sedation causes you to become very sleepy or temporarily unconscious during the cosmetic surgery procedure. Knowing you will be unable to feel sensations or remember the surgery can induce relaxation and relieve stress.

One of the biggest advantages of sedatives is that they don’t incite the post-operative nausea and vomiting that may occur with general anesthesia. There are numerous different methods of sedation based on different drugs. It is usually a combination of a narcotic and a sedative type drug. (e.g., valium, versed) :Light types of sedation may be done by the plastic surgeon himself. Heavier sedations are best managed by an anesthesiologist, lest one end up like Michael Jackson. All sedation methods require the use of oxygen and oxygen monitoring for safety.

More invasive or extended plastic surgery procedures should be performed under general anesthesia. In this case, an anesthesiologist will always administers the drugs and manage the airway. While one may initially go to sleep with the drug now made famous by Michael Jackson (propafol), the depth of anesthesia requires a device placed in the throat so air can exchange without obstruction. This airway device (LMR or endotracheal tube) provides a method to administer gases which are usually the main method to keep you asleep. Drugs and gases will make you unconscious and unable to feel or remember anything about the surgery.

Several fears continue to exist today about general anesthesia. One of these concerns is that one may not wake up. While anything is possible in life, I have yet to ever see this happen. And putting a healthy person to sleep for an elective operation makes this risk infinitesimally remote. I tell my patients in my Indianapolis plastic surgery practice that you have a better chance of dying from an auto accident driving home from your consultation than you do from not waking up after the surgery.

Another significant concern is the fear of nausea and vomiting afterwards. In todays plastic surgery, we are very focused on that exact issue and recognize the concerns about it. As a plastic surgeon, I don’t want it either. Besides the issue of comfort, such a postoperative problem could cause a complication of bleeding and excessive bruising. For this reason, our anesthesiologists provide prophylactic measures (anti-nausea drugs) before, during, and immediately after surgery. Such an approach keeps nausea and vomiting complications quite low.

Anesthesia options in plastic surgery are controlled by the type of procedure, your medical history, and the best way for your plastic surgeon to focus on performing your operation in the best manner possible. Local and sedation anesthesia are good methods for limited procedures of short duration but can be counterproductive for most more extensive procedures. Many concerns about the risks of general anesthesia are based more on fear and misconceptions than known statistics. Todays drugs and monitoring methods have made general anesthesia safer and more comfortable than ever before.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana

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Dr. Barry EppleyDr. Barry Eppley

Dr. Barry Eppley is an extensively trained plastic and cosmetic surgeon with more than 20 years of surgical experience. He is both a licensed physician and dentist as well as double board-certified in both Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. This training allows him to perform the most complex surgical procedures from cosmetic changes to the face and body to craniofacial surgery. Dr. Eppley has made extensive contributions to plastic surgery starting with the development of several advanced surgical techniques. He is a revered author, lecturer and educator in the field of plastic and cosmetic surgery.

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