Getting anesthesia is a great way to endure difficult medical procedures without having to be awake for the whole ordeal. It's like magic, really. But the creepy things that happen to your body under anesthesia might unnerve a lot of people outside the medical community. Still, it's much better than trying to get through a long surgery without any help. Even if it does some weird things to the body, I'll take anesthesia over the alternative any day.
First, though, it's important to remember that going under anesthesia is very different from just taking a nap for a couple hours. Although it may just feel like going to sleep for the patient, there's a lot more going on. The body goes into a sleep-like state, sure, but general anesthesia prevents the brain from responding to pain or reflex signals, according to the Mayo Clinic. To make sure there aren't any complications, the anesthesia care team monitors the patient during the whole procedure, and in fact going under general anesthesia is considered safe even for many patients with serious medical conditions, as further explained by the Mayo Clinic. However, even in this deep sleep-like state, there's still a lot of action happening in the anesthetized body.
It sounds scary, but there's a good reason the body's vomit reflex kicks in when a person is conked out. "The majority of patients will have nausea, sometimes to the point of vomiting while under anesthesia," says pharmacy expert Jason Reed, who has worked at a hospital pharmacy that services the surgery department. Nausea and vomiting is the body's natural response to unconsciousness. "The body is trying to expel whatever made you slip into the unconscious state," says Reed. Thankfully, most patients will be treated with anti-nausea medication to help decrease this response.
2. Goosebumps & Shivers
Not all bodily responses are shut down by the anesthesia. "Another creepy thing that happens is the patient will often get goosebumps due to the body temperature lowering," says Reed. "This then often leads to shivering that makes you think the patient is awake even though they are out."
3. Loss Of Control Over Words
Sometimes going under anesthesia makes the patient start spilling secrets. "You may tell us secrets that you never wanted others to know about," says Dr. Anthony Youn, host of The Holistic Plastic Surgery Show. "The milder medications that you receive prior to going under anesthesia are meant to calm you and get you ready for the 'big guns.' They also can act as a bit of a truth serum." Dr. Youn has had patients start hitting on him or tell serious secrets while under the influence of these medications.
Memory loss is another very real effect of anesthesia. "You may have amnesia," says Dr. Youn. Medications that patients receive prior to the operation, such as Versed, often produce this effect. "Although you will be awake and talking until the moment the stronger medication is given to you, you may not remember." Patients sometimes have entire conversations that they don't recall later on.
5. Extreme Constipation
This might not be the creepiest thing caused by anesthesia, but it's one of the most unpleasant side effects. "When one is under anesthesia . . . some types of anesthesia will slow down the GI system, so it is more difficult for food to be passed through your body," says Dr. Constance Chen, board-certified plastic surgeon and Breast Reconstruction Specialist. "This can lead to be people being constipated after anesthesia, especially if they are taking narcotics postoperatively that also contribute to slowing down the GI system." Basically, being sedated in this way can make your digestive system slow to a crawl, with uncomfortable consequences.
6. Random Muscle Twitching
Even when a person is sedated, the body is still moving in many ways. "Finally, some types of anesthesia can cause muscle twitching during induction," says Dr. Chen. "This usually resolves quite quickly." Still, watching muscles spasm at random is pretty creepy to most people outside the medical community.
7. Intense Dreams & Hallucinations
Several of the experts mentioned the wild, vivid dreams that patients under anesthesia can experience. But this particular response deserves to be told in its entirety. "I had a patient who was undergoing a reconstructive procedure," says plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Kearney. "He was sedated with a drug called Ketamine and he had wild but pleasant hallucinations about riding a glass tiger through a glass forest. For weeks after the procedure, he asked if he could have another procedure and get that drug again. He drew pictures of the forest and the tiger he was riding for weeks." Whether it's nausea, amnesia, or fantastic dreams, the effects of anesthesia on the body are pretty intense and sometimes creepy.