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What Really Happens to Your Body When You Go Under Anesthesia

Anesthesia | Female feet under blanket flat lay. Female beautiful feet on the bed. Sleeping woman legs under white blanket

Your brain quiets down like it’s getting deep sleep

As the anesthesiologist asks you to count down from 100 in the operating room, here’s what’s taking place in your head: “A hypnotic agent is given to quiet the thinking part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, and areas of the brain stem associated with awareness,” explains Jennifer Kollman, MD, director of anesthesia at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs, Colorado. You can expect your breathing to slow and your body to relax. “When you awaken, it’s almost like you’ve time-travelled, feeling like you only fell asleep moments ago,” says Dr. Kollman. “Some people even report dreams afterward.”

You might not fall completely asleep, though

Rarelyin about one or two out of 1,000 casesa person might become aware during anesthesia, but they won’t usually feel pain, says James D. Grant, MD, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and chair of the department of anesthesiology at Beaumont Hospital-Royal Oak in Royal Oak, Michigan. “Anesthesia awareness can occur for a few reasons. There are some procedures, because of either urgency or unstable patient conditions, that warrant using lower doses of drugs that could place patients at a higher risk for awareness,” he says. These higher-risk procedures may include trauma, cardiac surgery, and emergency C-section delivery.

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