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General Anesthesia for Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What is general anesthesia?

General anesthesia is medicine that keeps your child asleep during a procedure or surgery. General anesthesia can be given through an IV or as a gas or vapor that is inhaled.

How do I prepare my child for general anesthesia?

You may not have time to prepare. If you do have time, your child's healthcare provider or surgeon will tell you how. The following is general information:

  • Ask for information that explains anesthesia to you and your child in more detail. Ask for any information that may help calm your child's fears. Information given in a video or books may be available. Healthcare providers may be able to take you and your child on a tour of the procedure or surgery room.
  • If your child is old enough, tell him or her what to expect. Listen if your child talks about any fears. Explain that healthcare providers will make sure he or she is comfortable. They will make sure he or she does not feel any pain and stays asleep until the surgery or procedure is over. Let your child pick out a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or toy to take with him or her.
  • Tell your child's provider if your child or any family member had problems with anesthesia. Also tell them about any health conditions or allergies your child has.
  • Tell your child's provider about all medicines he or she currently takes. The provider will tell you if you need to stop any medicine for the surgery or procedure, and when to stop. He or she will tell you which medicines to give or not give on the day of surgery or procedure.
  • Your child should not eat or drink after a certain time before the procedure or surgery. This helps prevent food or liquid from getting into your child's lungs. Your child's provider will give you specific instructions to follow.

What will happen on the day of my child's procedure or surgery?

If your child is anxious, medicine may be given to calm him or her before general anesthesia is given. Your child's healthcare provider may let you be with your child until he or she is asleep.

What should I expect after my child receives general anesthesia?

  • Your child will be taken to a room where he or she can rest until awake.
  • Your child may be disoriented, confused, or unsteady until he or she is fully awake. Your child may also have nausea, vomiting, chills, or shakiness. He or she may have a sore throat if a breathing tube was used.
  • Your child's healthcare providers may need to give him or her medicines to control nausea and vomiting.
  • You will be given specific instructions on how to care for your child after the procedure or surgery.
  • Depending on the surgery or procedure, your child will be taken to a hospital room or sent home. Watch your child closely for 24 hours after he or she is home. Some problems with general anesthesia happen right away. Others can happen later.

What are the risks of general anesthesia?

Your child could have a severe reaction to the medicine. The medicine may cause nausea and vomiting. The medicine may also cause a seizure or a very high fever. These conditions may become life-threatening.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.