The final phase of anesthesia is called emergence. When your procedure is completed, the anesthesia specialist will stop giving the anesthetic. As your body clears the anesthetic medicines from your system, the effects begin to wear off, and your body functions begin to return. How quickly you emerge from anesthesia depends on the anesthetics and other medicines used and on your response to the medicines.
With local and regional anesthesia, emergence occurs as the effect of the injected anesthetic wears off and sensation returns. How long it takes for sensation to return depends on the type of anesthetic used, how much you were given, and the area of your body that was affected. Local anesthesia and some regional nerve blocks may wear off within 1 to 2 hours. Emergence from epidural or spinal blocks may take longer.
Emergence from general anesthesia begins when the intravenous or inhalation anesthetic is stopped. It may take a short time before your body clears the anesthetic from your system. You will be closely watched during emergence to make sure that you are breathing well on your own; your heartbeat, blood pressure, and other vital functions stay at normal levels; and your muscle control has returned. If an endotracheal tube or laryngeal mask airway was used, it will be removed as soon as you are breathing on your own.
In some cases, to help speed emergence, reversal agents are used to counteract, or reverse, the effects of certain anesthetics. These agents may help reduce the time it takes for you to recover from anesthesia.
Emergence does not mean you will have completely recovered from all the effects of anesthesia. Some effects may persist for many hours after anesthesia has ended. For example, you may have some numbness or reduced sensation in the part of your body that was anesthetized until the anesthetic wears off completely. Even if you feel alert and normal, your judgment and reflexes may still be affected for some time after your procedure, especially if you continue to take medicines, such as those to control pain or nausea. If you have numbness or reduced sensation longer than expected, contact your anesthesia specialist or doctor.