During a medical or dental procedure, doctors or dentists may give you a combination of sedatives and anesthetics to help you relax and to block pain respectively. This combination is called conscious sedation. During conscious sedation, you will be awake but will be unable to speak. Conscious sedation promotes a quick recovery; you will be able to do your everyday activities very soon after your procedure.
How does conscious sedation work?
A doctor, dentist, or nurse will administer conscious sedation either in a hospital or outpatient clinic. Conscious sedation is typically not given by an anesthesiologist. The medicine wears off quickly; doctors only use it for short and easy procedures.
You will either receive the medicine through a shot into a muscle or through an intravenous line in a vein (IV). Soon after receiving the medicine, you will start to feel drowsy and relaxed. If you have to swallow the medicine, you will feel the effects after 30 minutes to an hour.
After receiving the medicine, your breathing will slow down, and your blood pressure will decrease. Someone will check your vitals regularly during the procedure to check whether you are still OK. This person will be by your side throughout the procedure. It will not be necessary for you to need help with your breathing, but just to be on the safe side, your doctor might give you extra oxygen through a mask or an IV into a vein.
It is possible that you will fall asleep, but you will quickly wake up to respond if needed. After conscious sedation, you may feel a little lethargic and will probably not remember anything about your procedure.
Why use conscious sedation?
Doctors and dentists use conscious sedation because it is safe and effective for minor surgeries or to diagnose a condition. Conscious sedation is commonly used for
- Breast biopsy
- Dental prosthetic or reconstructive surgery
- Minor bone fracture repair
- Minor foot surgery
- Minor skin surgery
- Plastic or reconstructive surgery
- Procedures to diagnose and treat some stomach (upper endoscopy), colon (colonoscopy), lung (bronchoscopy), and bladder (cystoscopy) conditions
Conscious sedation is safe in most circumstances. If you receive too much medicine, there will be problems with your breathing. That is why a health care provider will monitor you throughout the whole procedure. There are special equipment available to assist your breathing if necessary. Only certain qualified health care providers and administer conscious sedation.
Before the Procedure
It’s important to tell the health care provider if you are or could be pregnant. You also have to tell your health care provider if you are taking any drugs, supplements, or herbs that you have bought with or without a prescription.
A few days before your procedure you must tell your health care provider about any allergies or health conditions that you may have, what medicines you are taking and what anesthesia or sedation you have had before if you have that information. It may be necessary to go for blood or urine tests or a physical exam. You have to arrange for someone to drive you to and from the hospital or health care center. Try to stop smoking before the procedure as this may increase the risk of issues during the procedure as well as your recovery.
On the day of your procedure, you have to follow all instructions. Your doctor will tell you when to stop eating or drinking. Under no circumstances should you drink alcohol the night before or on the day of your procedure. If you have to take medicine, do so with a small sip of water. Be sure to arrive on time for the procedure.
After the Procedure
After the procedure, you will feel drowsy, and you may have a headache or feel a little nauseated. A health care professional will clip your finger with a pulse oximeter to check your oxygen levels. Someone will also take your blood pressure every 15 minutes. You should be able to go home within an hour or two.
When you are at home, you should eat a healthy meal. Try to return to your daily activities within the next days. Within the first 24 hours after your procedure, you should avoid drinking alcohol, operating machinery, driving and making legal decisions. Don’t take any medicine or supplements without discussing it with your doctor. If you had surgery, you should follow any instructions that your doctor gave you regarding recovery.
Conscious sedation is overall safe and a viable option for procedures or diagnostic tests.
Anesthesia – conscious
Sherwood ER, Williams CG, Prough DS. Anesthesiology principles, pain management, and conscious sedation. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012: chap 16.
Vuyk J, Sitsen E, Reekers M. Intravenous anesthetics. In: Miller RD, ed. Miller’s Anesthesia. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015: chap 30.