Anesthesiologist: Your Surgical Anesthesia & Pain Management Specialist
An anesthesiologist is a physician who specializes in relieving pain and providing total medical care for patients before, during and after surgery. Anesthesiologists are dedicated to protecting and regulating your critical life functions during surgery. As a pain management specialist, an anesthesiologist focuses on pain relief for patients both inside and outside the surgery department in such areas as intensive care units (ICUs) and pain clinics. They serve an important role in labor and delivery units administering epidurals and surgical anesthesia for cesarean deliveries.
An anesthesiologist typically:
Evaluates your medical history, medical condition, and readiness for surgery
Collaborates and consults with other members of your medical and surgical teams
Orders and interprets laboratory tests and X-rays
Administers pain-relieving drugs and local, regional and general anesthesia
Monitors, protects and regulates all your vital signs and critical life functions during procedures that require anesthesia
Diagnoses and treats surgical and anesthesia complications during and after surgery, life-threatening conditions requiring critical care, acute and chronic pain conditions, and sleep disorders
Provides palliative, hospice, and end-of-life care
Most people will see an anesthesiologist when they have any type of surgery or procedure that requires anesthesia. An anesthesiologist will see you beforehand for a preoperative evaluation of your medical condition and your readiness for surgery. After that, you may not see or be aware that the anesthesiologist is caring for you. However, he or she will be overseeing your care both during and after surgery until you leave the recovery room.
You may also see an anesthesiologist during an ICU stay, childbirth, end-of-life hospice care, or treatment for chronic pain or sleep disorders.
It is likely that an anesthesiologist will care for you if you develop any of the following symptoms or conditions:
Acute pain conditions
Any life-threatening condition or injury that requires critical care in an ICU
Any type of surgery or procedure that requires anesthesia
Childbirth pain management
Chronic pain disorders or cancer pain
You should also seek care from an anesthesiologist under the following situations:
You or a family member has a terminal disease that has progressed to an advanced stage and is not responding to treatment. In this case, the goal of treatment shifts from curing the disease to helping you live as fully and comfortably as possible. This type of care is called hospice or end-of-life care. It involves medically controlling pain and other symptoms, while providing psychological and spiritual support for you and your family.
You or a family member requires treatment focused on pain and symptom management. This is palliative care. You may still be actively treating your disease and receive palliative care.
If you’re in need of specialized pain management, search for an experienced anesthesiologist near you today.
An anesthesiologist treats conditions and diseases that require pain relief or complete anesthesia including:
Acute pain conditions including postoperative pain, pain after an injury, or pain with a medical illness
Advanced-stage diseases including diseases that have become terminal and require hospice or end-of-life care and those that are not terminal but require palliative care
Childbirth including pain relief with painkillers (analgesia), local anesthesia for episiotomy, regional anesthesia (epidural, spinal, or combined spinal-epidural), and general surgery anesthesia for C-section delivery
Life-threatening conditions or injuries including traumatic injuries, heart attack, stroke or brain injuries, shock, respiratory failure, kidney failure, severe infections, coma, and multiple system organ failure
Sleep disorders including sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, nocturnal behavior disorders, and narcolepsy
Surgeries requiring anesthesia including elective surgeries, emergency surgeries, trauma surgeries, and exploratory surgeries
An anesthesiologist can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests including:
Imaging tests including X-ray, ultrasound, CT (computed tomography), and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
Laboratory tests including blood tests, urine tests, pregnancy tests, liver function tests, kidney function tests, and blood typing
Organ function tests including EKGs (electrocardiograms) and pulmonary (lung) function tests
Sleep studies including polysomnography
Anesthesiologists order or perform various procedures and treatments to manage surgical and pain conditions. Common procedures and treatments include:
Anesthesia management including sedation, inhaled anesthetics, intravenous anesthetics, muscle relaxants, narcotics, and other pain medications
Critical care procedures including intravenous catheterization or central line placement, tube placements, nutritional support, organ support, and emergency life support procedures
Pain management including medications, injections, nerve blocks, and electrical stimulation
Recovery procedures including reversing anesthesia and caring for you while you regain consciousness
Sleep treatments including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and medications
Vital sign and critical life function management including controlling your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure with medications and devices
In most cases, your surgeon or other specialist will select the anesthesiologist who will give you anesthesia during surgery. However, you may be able to request a specific anesthesiologist if you work with your surgeon beforehand. Anesthesiologists perform and monitor many procedures that you schedule in advance. They also work in private practice.
If you are researching anesthesiologists, keep in mind that education, training, experience, and board certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. A board-certified anesthesiologist is a licensed MD or DO who has completed an anesthesiology residency and passed certification requirements from a U.S. certifying board. A doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program to maintain board certification.
Doctors may also pursue certification in a subspecialty. Certification requires additional training beyond the residency program, as well as passing another exam. The additional training is sometimes known as a fellowship.
Subspecialties of anesthesiology include:
Critical care medicine focuses patients with acute, life-threatening illnesses or injuries.
Hospice and palliative medicine focuses on preventing or relieving pain and other symptoms of people with critical or terminal illnesses.
Pain medicine focuses on diagnosing, treating and managing pain and a range of painful disorders.
Pediatric anesthesiology focuses on relieving pain and providing total medical care for children before, during and after surgery.
Sleep medicine focuses on health conditions that prevent sleep, occur during sleep, or result from a lack of sleep.