Can you have surgery without anaesthetic?

Can you have surgery without a general anaesthetic? Perhaps the question should be would you want to have surgery without anaesthetic?

After all, the advent of anaesthesia was a truly marvellous one. The date October 16, 1846 is an important one in the history of anaesthesia. The first successful surgical procedure was performed with anaesthesia, courtesy of a dentist, Dr. Morton, who successfully anaesthetised a patient with ether, and removed a tumour from the jaw – painlessly.

The risks of anaesthesia

However, despite the fact an effective anaesthetic was a life-saving invention for humanity (think of all the complex procedures that would not have been able to go ahead without it), anaesthesia is not without problems.

Dizziness, drowsiness, headache and confusion are common side-effects after general anaesthesia for days, weeks or even months. Although modern anaesthesia generally has a good safety record, in very rare cases, brain damage can happen due to complications or error, the brain is deprived of oxygen, and permanent brain damage is caused.

How to avoid anaesthetic

It’s understandable that research has shown many are wary of general anaesthetics, preferring where possible to avoid them. Luckily, local anaesthetic procedures do not have the same risks attached to them; they also have quicker recovery times.

As surgical techniques and understanding of how to manage pain better without a general anaesthetic improve, more and more patients are opting to stay awake during surgery. 

So what does this mean in practice for patients? Orthopaedic surgery is now often down using local anaesthetics for procedures which previously would be done under general anaesthetic. It’s also happening in gynaecology.

Office gynaecology without anaesthetic

One doctor who has pioneered the use of local anaesthetics where a general would have been previously used, is Consultant Gynaecologist Mr Francis Gardner  who is Clinical Director of Gynaecology at Queen Alexandra Hospital Portsmouth, where he performs NovoSure endometrial ablation and MyoSure hysteroscopic resections of fibroids and polyps.

Mr Francis Gardner's technique has been so successful that at Queen Alexandra Hospital it has become standard to treat patients fully awake, without sedation, with just oral analgesia and local anaesthesia.

How does surgery without anaesthesia feel?

So, the big question is, does it hurt? One patient, Lisa, who suffered from very heavy periods after the birth of her two children gave her verdict after having the  NovaSure endometrial ablation procedure performed by Mr Gardner: “I had my belly button pierced a few years ago and nearly passed out with the pain, but having the NovaSure procedure, I didn’t feel a thing! I had no pain whatsoever, I felt absolutely nothing!"

She added: "The procedure takes less than two minutes anyway, so I hardly noticed it had been done! I stayed for half-an-hour afterwards, had a cup of tea and then came home. Apart from having mild stomach cramps when the medication wore off, I had no bleeding whatsoever.”

For Lisa, the result is she can go on holiday at last without having to worry about the practical problems of heavy periods.

She commented: “I would urge any woman who is going through similar symptoms as me, to see their GP and ask to be referred to their local gynaecologist, who can talk you through what’s best for you.”


A medication that reduces sensation. Full medical glossary
A condition that is linked to, or is a consequence of, another disease or procedure. Full medical glossary
Relating to the endometrium. Full medical glossary
A benign tumour, most often in the uterus. Full medical glossary
Benign tumours, most often in the uterus. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of genetic material carried on chromosomes. Full medical glossary
Any agent that reduces or abolishes sensation, affecting the whole body. Full medical glossary
A medication that reduces sensation in a part of the body. Full medical glossary
A growth on the surface of a mucous membrane (a surface that secretes mucus, lining any body cavity that opens to the outside of the body). Full medical glossary
Growths on the surface of a mucous membrane (a surface that secretes mucous), lining any body cavity that opens to the outside of the body. Full medical glossary
The surgical removal of part of the body. Full medical glossary
the organ or the body where food is stored and broken down Full medical glossary
An abnormal swelling. Full medical glossary