The Importance of Fasting Before Anesthesia: Your Key to a Safe Surgery


If you've ever been scheduled for a surgery or medical procedure, you've likely received instructions to abstain from eating or drinking hours before the intervention. This might seem puzzling or even uncomfortable, but these guidelines are actually for your safety. Today, we'll explore why preoperative fasting is so essential, particularly when you're due to receive intravenous (IV) sedation.

Anesthesia and Your Body

First off, let's clarify what happens when you receive anesthesia. Anesthesia, including IV sedation, is a way to minimize pain and discomfort during medical procedures. It works by numbing your body or making you unconscious, depending on the type of anesthesia.

When you're under anesthesia, your body's natural reflexes are subdued. This includes the gag and cough reflexes that help prevent foreign substances, like food or drink, from entering your windpipe and lungs - a process called aspiration. Aspiration can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia or even life-threatening situations.

The Link Between Eating, Drinking, and Anesthesia

If you've had a meal or drink shortly before anesthesia, the contents could still be in your stomach. Under normal circumstances, yours body would be able to prevent these contents from going the wrong way. But under anesthesia, the protective reflexes that stop food or liquid from entering the lungs are compromised. The result? The potential for stomach contents to travel back up to the esophagus and then into your lungs. This scenario is known as pulmonary aspiration, and it can cause severe lung damage or a serious infection, such as aspiration pneumonia. In the worst cases, it can even be fatal.

It's important to note that this risk is not just related to solid food. Even clear liquid or other beverages, including water, can pose a problem. That's why the preoperative instructions often require patients to refrain from both eating and drinking.

How Fasting Reduces the Risk

By fasting before your procedure, you're essentially giving your digestive system a change to clear out. This reduces the volume of stomach contents and therefore minimizes the risk of aspiration. Generally, you may be asked to fast for six to eight hours before the procedure, but the exact duration can very depending on our health condition, the type of procedure, and the anesthesia used.

There may be some exceptions to the rule, such as essential medications that your doctor might allow you to take with a small sip of water. Remember, these instructions are not one-size-fits-all and your healthcare provider will provide specific guidelines that are tailored to your individual needs.

What if I already ate or drank something on the day of the procedure?

This is OK. Every procedure we do in the office can be performed without IV sedation, provided the patient is willing to do it. We use plenty of local anesthetic to help with patient discomfort. Additionally, we can give you a Valium to help with your anxiety, even if you ate or drank before the procedure.

In Conclusion

So, while the prospect of skipping your morning coffee or going without food may seem daunting, it's a small price to pay for a safer surgical experience. The goal of a preoperative fasting is to minimize the risk of complications and help ensure the smoothest possible procedure and recovery.