Learning About General Anesthesia in Children

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What is general anesthesia in children?

General anesthesia is medicine that causes your child to become unconscious. It affects the whole body. It makes your child unaware and not feel any pain during a procedure.

How is it given?

Your child may first be given some medicine to help them relax. Then anesthesia medicine may be given through a mask. Or it may be given through a needle in a vein.

A specialist will adjust the medicines as needed. They will watch closely to keep your child safe. A soft tube or other device in the back of your child's throat may be used to give your child an inhaled medicine and oxygen. It may also be used to help your child's breathing.

How do you prepare?

You will get a list of instructions to help you prepare. They will cover things like when your child needs to stop eating, drinking, or breastfeeding. If your child has a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, make sure they use it.

Your child's anesthesia specialist will tell you what to expect. They'll cover what happens when you get to the hospital, during the procedure, and after. And they will talk with you about the risks and benefits of anesthesia. If you have questions, be sure to ask.

Some children may be nervous before they have anesthesia or a procedure. It can help to calmly explain to your child what they can expect at the hospital. And let them pick out things to bring to the hospital that can help comfort them.

If your child still seems nervous, ask your doctor about ways to help your child relax. These may include relaxation exercises or medicine.

What should you tell the anesthesia specialist before the procedure?

Tell the specialist about any health problems your child has. Tell them about your child's past surgeries. Also let them know if a family member had problems with anesthesia. Give them a list of any medicines, vitamins, and herbal products your child takes.

What are the risks?

Anesthesia is very safe in healthy children. Major side effects aren't common. But all types of anesthesia have some risk. Your child's risk depends on their overall health. It also depends on how they respond to the medicines used.

Serious but rare risks include breathing problems, heart problems, and stroke. Malignant hyperthermia is an extremely rare but very serious reaction that can occur with some anesthesia medicines. It can be deadly. The chance of having this reaction may be passed down in families.

Some health conditions increase the risk of problems. The anesthesia specialist will ask about any health problems your child may have. You will discuss things that can raise your child's risk. These include sleep apnea; obesity; and heart, lung, or liver disease.

Research is being done on possible effects of anesthesia on brain development in children under 3. If you have concerns about your child having anesthesia, talk to your doctor.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.