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Man in hospital bed being moved

What is sedation?

Sedation is another name for making a person calm, usually by the administration of a sedative. It ensures people are as comfortable as possible during surgery or medical procedures.

Sedation relaxes a person and may make them fall asleep. It may also be used to control pain.

Sedation may also be known as conscious sedation, monitored anesthesia care, or twilight sedation.

When is sedation used?

Sedation is usually given to relieve anxiety before major surgical procedures or for minor surgical procedures where an injection of a local anesthetic is not enough, but general anesthesia is unnecessary, for example, during:

  • Biopsies
  • A colonoscopy
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Dental surgery
  • Endoscopy
  • Minor skin surgery
  • Other investigative procedures, such as a bronchoscopy (to investigate the lungs) or a cystoscopy (to examine the bladder)
  • A vasectomy

Procedures that involve sedation may be performed in a hospital or outpatient setting, such as day surgery, a physician’s office or a dental clinic.

What types of sedation are there?

Minimal sedation helps people to relax but stills allow them to be awake to answer questions and follow directions.

Moderate sedation makes people feel drowsy and they may fall asleep during the procedure. Their memory of the procedure may be affected.

With deep sedation, most people sleep through the procedure, although they won’t be unconscious. They usually have little or no memory of the event.

What medications are used for sedation?

Most sedatives are given intravenously through a vein when given for surgery or procedures, although some may be given orally an hour or two before a procedure when used to relieve anxiety.

Medications that may be used for sedation include:

  • Benzodiazepines, such as midazolam or lorazepam
  • Barbiturates, such as methohexital
  • Propofol
  • Etomidate
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Dexmedetomidine
  • Trazodone

Other medications with drowsiness as a side effect may also be used for sedation.

What are the side effects of sedation?

Sedation tends to wear off quickly once IV medications are stopped. Side effects are usually minimal and much less than with general anesthesia but may include drowsiness, headache, and nausea.

Sometimes IV sedation may be combined with local anesthesia or another type of pain control, which can cause numbing of an area of the body, which may persist for a few hours after the procedure.