Anaesthesia explained

Published: 02/08/2019

In the recovery room

After most anaesthetics you will be cared for in a recovery room. This is close to the operating theatre. Your surgeon or anaesthetist can quickly be told about any change in your condition.

Staff in the recovery room will either be nurses or ODPs. They are trained to deal with critical situations that can happen after surgery, such as bleeding or low blood pressure. They will also treat any pain or sickness that you have. Most people receive extra oxygen in the recovery room, through a face mask or through little tubes that sit under the nostrils. 

If you gave dentures, hearing aids or glasses to staff, they will be returned to you.

You will be taken back to the ward when the recovery room staff are satisfied that you are safely recovering normally. You can eat or drink according to the instructions of the surgeon.

High dependency unit (HDU) or intensive care unit (ICU)

After some major operations, you may need care in the HDU or ICU. If this is planned, it will be discussed with you beforehand.

For more information about this, please see our leaflet Your anaesthetic for major surgery with planned high dependency care or intensive care afterwards.

Blood transfusion 

Blood is lost during most operations. The anaesthetist will give you salt-solution fluids through your cannula to make up for this. If a larger amount of blood loss is expected, your healthcare team may use a machine which recycles your blood so it can be returned to you. This is called ‘cell saving’.

Your anaesthetist may also need to consider giving you a blood transfusion. You would receive blood from a volunteer blood donor under the rules of the National Blood Service. For more information about a blood transfusion, please see information on the NHS website here:

Pain relief 

Good pain relief after your operation is important. As well as making you comfortable, it helps you get better more quickly. 

If you have good pain relief, you will be able to:

  • breathe deeply and cough, at least gently (which will help make sure you do not develop a chest infection after your operation); and
  • move about freely. Exactly how much and how soon you will move around the bed, or get out of bed, will depend on the operation you have had. Early movement helps prevent blood clots in your legs (deep-vein thrombosis or DVT). Getting out of bed helps you to expand your lungs and to avoid a chest infection. It also helps prevent stiff joints, an aching back and pressure sores where you have been lying.

Not everyone needs to see a physiotherapist for this type of care. Your doctors and nurses will ask for this kind of physiotherapy for you  if they think it is needed.

Planning your pain relief 

Your anaesthetist will talk with you before your operation about pain relief afterwards. You can discuss any preferences you have, and decide together what pain relief you will have. They will prescribe some pain relief, and more will be available if you need it.

The amount of pain relief you need depends on the operation you are having:

  • some people need more pain relief than others
  • pain relief can be increased, given more often, or given in different combinations
  • most pain relief treatments also have side effects. Your doctors will need to take these into consideration as they advise you on which type of pain relief is best for you
  • occasionally, pain is a warning sign that all is not well, so you should tell your nurses about it.

It is much easier to relieve pain if it is dealt with before it gets bad. So, you should ask for help if you think the pain is bad or getting worse. 

Pain relief teams 

Most hospitals have a team of nurses and anaesthetists who specialise in pain relief after surgery. You can ask to see them, or the doctors and nurses on the ward can call them for advice if your pain is difficult to control.