The ABCs of MAC Anesthesia

mac anesthesia

You may have heard about MAC anesthesia, or maybe you know someone who experienced this type of sedation during surgery – but what exactly is it, and how does it differ from general anesthesia? These are great questions, and they concern a lot of people – especially those who claim they’ve been awake during surgery.

Read on to learn the basics of MAC anesthesia.

What Is MAC Anesthesia?

MAC stands for Monitored Anesthesia Care. Rather than just knocking you out, anesthetic medications are used to put you through a range of sedation levels. The level you reach depends on a variety of things — like your age, health, genetic factors, and how much of the drug you are given.

According to The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), levels of sedation are divided into the following four categories. Each category’s official ASA definition is given next to it.

  •      Minimal Sedationa drug-induced state during which patients respond normally to verbal commands.
  •      Moderate Sedationa drug-induced depression of consciousness during which patients respond purposefully to verbal commands, either alone or accompanied by light tactile stimulation.
  •      Deep Sedationa drug-induced depression of consciousness during which patients cannot be easily aroused but respond purposefully following repeated or painful stimulation.
  •      General Anesthesiaa drug-induced loss of consciousness during which patients are not arousable even by painful stimulation.

MAC does not appear in these official classifications, but it is most closely associated with moderate and deep sedation.

Why Are There Levels of Sedation?

Since most people prefer to be completely unaware during surgery, it begs the question: what’s the point of minimal and moderate sedation? There are two main reasons lighter sedation is sometimes used: recovery is much quicker, and there is less depression of the patient’s breathing and heart rate (as opposed to heavier drugs, which cause the patient to gradually lose the ability to breathe normally).

The most important thing about MAC anesthesia is to have a clear understanding of the level of sedation you are being offered before surgery. You should know exactly what to expect as far as your awareness and memory of the procedure (some anesthesia has the happy side effect of causing amnesia as far as the surgery goes).

Other problems can arise if the patient does not respond as expected to the sedation, and ends up either too lightly or too heavily sedated – but even with general anesthesia, there are about 2 in every 1,000 cases where patients are unintentionally aware.

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