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What Is Sedation?

Sedation is the use of medicines to help someone relax and not feel pain during a medical procedure.

When Is Sedation Used?

Health care providers use sedation for short procedures. For example, a patient might get sedation for dental surgery, when a broken bone is straightened, or during a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) or cardiac catheterization.

A patient also might be sedated before getting general, regional, or local anesthesia to help them relax.

What Are the Types of Sedation?

Depending on the patient’s age, their health, and the procedure being done, health care providers can use sedation that is:

  • Minimal: The patient is relaxed but can still answer questions.
  • Moderate: The patient is very sleepy and may not remember the procedure.
  • Deep: The patient is fully asleep and won’t remember most or any of the procedure. Unlike during general anesthesia, though, the person usually can breathe on their own.

How Are Sedation and Anesthesia Different?

A patient given general anesthesia is in a very deep sleep (unconscious). They may need a breathing tube if they can’t breathe on their own. During sedation, patients are sleepy and may even fall completely asleep, but they’re not in the deep sleep of general anesthesia. They may need to be given some oxygen, but usually can breathe on their own and typically do not need a breathing tube.

How Is Sedation Given?

Health care providers usually give sedation through an IV (into a vein). Sometimes patients take the medicines by mouth or inhale them through the nose or mouth.

Health care providers who give sedation include anesthesiologists, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), dentists, and emergency room doctors.

What Are the Side Effects of Sedation?

Someone waking up from sedation may feel tired or have a headache. Very rarely, they may feel sick to their stomach. If any of these side effects happen, they usually go away quickly.

What Are the Risks of Sedation?

For most people, sedation is very safe. Rarely, sedation can lead to problems such as abnormal heart rhythms, breathing problems, or an allergic reaction to the medicines.

Researchers are studying whether sedation or anesthesia can affect the brain development of young children. Most likely, getting sedation or anesthesia for a short time for one surgery or procedure does not put a child at risk. Parents should talk to their health care provider about possible risks for their child.

How Can Parents Help?

Most children don’t have any problems with sedation. To help your child before they get sedation:

  • Answer all the health care provider’s questions about:
    • your child’s current and past health
    • any medicines (prescription or over-the-counter) or herbal or natural remedies that your child takes
    • whether your child smokes, drinks alcohol, or uses any nonprescription drugs
    • any allergies your child has (especially to any medicines, foods, or latex)
  • Update the health care provider if your child gets sick (for example, has a cold or a cough) before the procedure.
  • Follow instructions for when your child needs to stop any medicines and eating/drinking.
  • After the procedure, follow the health care provider’s instructions about how to care for your child until they are fully awake.

Reviewed by: Judith A. Jones, MD
Date Reviewed: Aug 1, 2022

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