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A Brief Dicussion of Anesthesia and Analgesia

(Originally posted on About Anesthesiology)

Before launching into a discussion of the different medications and techniques available for pain relief during labor and delivery, it is important to define and draw a clear distinction between analgesia and anesthesia.

Analgesia refers to the reduction or relief of pain. This is what commonly happens for example when you take Tylenol for a headache or when patients are given morphine after an operation for pain. Analgesia implies pain relief - but does not imply that all sensation is taken away. In other words, analgesia does not mean numbness.

Anesthesia refers to lack of sensation. This can be accomplished with local anesthetics , for example the injection that your dentist gives you when you have a tooth filled. Almost always this also results in a lack of pain - therefore analgesia usually accompanies anesthesia. Note that when local anesthetics are used to provide anesthesia they also frequently cause muscle weakness or muscle relaxation.

As you can see, there is a clear difference between pure analgesia (pain relief, sensation and muscle ability normal) and anesthesia (lack of sensation, might be accompanied by muscle weakness or relaxation) - these terms will be used more as we continue in the class.

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