UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
How does anesthesia make you not feel anything?
Answer 1:

The sensation of physical feeling occurs when a nerve is activated and passes the signal through a network of additional nerves to your brain. So, if the nerve does not become activated, or if the signal is blocked before it reaches your brain, you will not feel anything.

Different anesthetics work by blocking this process at different points. For example, local anesthetics, which only make you numb in one area, work by preventing the nerves in the affected area from successfully becoming activated and transmitting a signal. That is, they block the nerve impulses at the source. This is usually accomplished by adding a chemical that interferes with the nerve response, but if you think about it even ice can be considered a local anesthetic to a certain degree, since nerves dont function as well in very cold conditions (and that explains why ice can also make you a little numb)! In contrast general anesthetics work at the other end of the nerve-signaling process by inducing general unconsciousness, which results in the brain not reporting any kind of feeling or recording any memories.

Answer 2:

There are different types of anesthesia, but to understand any of them, you need the same information.What we feel as pain starts out just like any other sensation. It gets picked up by receptors, and then a signal is sent to the brain. Along the way, the signal travels by a system of nerve cells, also called neurons. Within a neuron, the signal travels by a sort of biological electricity.

To get from one neuron to the next, it travels by a chemical signal. A neuron makes a chemical called a neurotransmitter (can you see how they got that name?). The next cell in line picks up the chemical in receptors. The neurotransmitters don't enter the cell; they just tell the cell to send the signal on down the line. The chemical is then broken down by enzymes and the pieces are recycled by the cell that made the neurotransmitter.

Each tiny area of your body has its own connection to the brain, so that if a message is sent on a particular nerve pathway, the brain interprets that as a sensation from that place in your body.

Most anesthetics work on the nerve-to-nerve part of the system. They may stop the neurotransmitter from getting out of the cell, so no signal is sent. Or they may block the receptors so that no matter how much neurotransmitter is around, the next cell never gets the message. Or they may break down the neurotransmitter faster. All of these actions will stop the signal from getting from the receptor to the brain.

Sometimes, we can be injured without feeling pain. The brain has no pain receptors, so when they do brain surgery, they can just use a local anesthetic to stop the feeling of pain in the scalp, but leave the patient awake. Sometimes we can feel pain without being injured. If neurotransmitters get released along a pain circuit, our brain thinks we have been hurt. People who have had a limb amputated sometimes feel "phantom" pain in the limb that is gone. For example, they may feel pain in their foot even though they no longer have a foot.

Some people are born without the ability to feel pain. This may seem like a good thing at first, but why might this be a real problem?

Thanks for asking.

Answer 3:

Anesthetics numb the sensory nerves, causing them tobe unable to sense any kind of stimulus.

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use