Most of us think of anesthesiology as the medical specialty that “puts you to sleep,” but it’s really all about pain relief.

Anesthesia makes possible some of modern medicine’s greatest miracles. Can you imagine undergoing surgery without it?

“Anesthesiology uses medicine to eliminate your ability to feel pain or other sensations,” explains John Williams, MD, the Peter and Eva Safar Professor and chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Anesthesiology. “Your anesthesiologist partners with your surgeon to manage your vital functions before, during, and after surgery. Everything from breathing, heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, body temperature, blood clotting, and fluid loss is consistently monitored.”

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A Team of Professionals

In today’s complex surgical suites, anesthesiologists lead an entire team of skilled professionals, which can include a certified registered nurse anesthetist, resident physician, student nurse anesthetist, and anesthetist assistant. “It’s a true team effort, with each member playing a distinct role in delivering patient care,” says Dr. Williams.

Anesthesia’s role in health care extends far beyond the operating room. Anesthesiologists offer pain management in a variety of settings, enhancing the daily lives of patients with chronic diseases or complex medical conditions.

What to Tell Your Anesthesiologist

Prior to surgery, you’ll be asked to provide information about yourself. “Be candid and comprehensive. What you share will be held in strict confidence,” advises Dr. Williams. Be sure to include the following:

  • Previous reactions you or other family members have had to anesthesia
  • Any food, medicine, or latex allergies you have
  • Prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal medications you take
  • Your use of alcohol or recreational drugs

Did You Know?

There are four basic categories of anesthesia:

  • Local: Numbs a small, specific part of your body
  • Regional: Numbs a larger area of your body, usually below the waist
  • Twilight: Sedates and provides pain relief
  • General: Renders you unconscious

About Anesthesiology

UPMC anesthesiologists work closely with UPMC doctors and surgeons, monitoring a patient’s vital signs before, during, and after surgery. We monitor breathing, heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, body temperature, blood clotting, and fluid loss. We support more than 300,000 procedures each year. We also are a leader in research, ranking as one of the top anesthesiology departments in the country in receiving research funding from the National Institutes of Health.