What Happens When You Go Under? How Anesthesia Works

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October 16 is World Anesthesia Day, celebrating the 170th anniversary of the first successful demonstration of surgical anesthesia.

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Prior to then, surgery was really unpleasant, to put it mildly — surgeons turned to alcohol, narcotics and even smacking their patients on the head to induce unconsciousness.

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Fortunately, anesthesia now allows tens of thousands patients every day to avoid the pain and memories of their procedures.But how does anesthesia work? This week, Reactions looks at scientists’ current understanding of what happens when you go under.

It’s not completely clear exactly how general anesthetics work, but the current accepted theory is that they affect the spinal cord which is why you end up immobile.

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The brain stem reticular activating system which explains the unconsciousness and the cerebral cortex which results in changes in electrical activity on an electroencephalogram.

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