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What is a Local Anesthetic?

By Ken Black
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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A local anesthetic is a type of treatment or medication used to provide analgesia, or pain relief, to a specific area of the body. Often, a doctor, nurse or anesthesiologist applies a local anesthetic to a certain area before a minor surgical procedure. It differs in contrast to a general anesthetic, which causees an individual to go unconscious, and is considered a more risky and dangerous procedure. A number of drugs can be used to achieve a localized nerve block so that a patient feels no pain.

There are many different ways to apply a local anesthetic to a patient. In many cases, a doctor or nurse can simply inject a small amount of medication into an area, as is often done for cases such as stitching up a wound. Epidural blocks and spinal anesthesia are two other methods of local anesthesia that put the anesthetic in an area that cuts of feeling to a larger area. The area receiving the treatment is specific and limited, meaning it is still a local anesthetic. Some may also refer to this as a regional anesthetic.

Once the anesthetic is applied, the time it takes for full feeling to be restored to the area depends on a number of variables, but usually feeling is restored within several hours at the very longest. The first variable is the amount and type of anesthetic. Another variable is the method used. For example, if the method of cutting off blood circulation before applying the anesthetic is used, which is known as a Bier's block, then feeling returns very quickly after the medical professional restores the blood circulation because the anesthetic is wiped out.

Medical professionals typically use one of three drugs to apply a local anesthetic, though there are more options available. Most local anesthetics end with the suffix "caine," and thus are easily identifiable as drugs for localized pain relief. The three main drugs are procaine, bupivicaine and proparicaine. These are generic names and brand names may be somewhat different.

Though there is some debate in the medical community about the safety of general anesthesia, most medical professionals agree that a local anesthetic is the better way to go, if possible. In some cases, the needs are so severe, such as in major surgery, that a general anesthetic is the only option, but in many cases a local drug can do the job. Dr. Anne Walling, writing for the American Academy of Family Physicians, noted that after some types of surgical procedures, specifically groin hernia repairs, those receiving a local anesthetic had less pain, less nausea, and an easier recovery than those undergoing a general anesthetic.

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Discussion Comments

By anon136998 — On Dec 25, 2010

I had a stent removed and it was the most painful I have ever gone through ever with local anesthesia and every doctor should go through it to see for themselves.

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