What Is Intravenous (IV) Sedation?

IV sedation may be used for patients needing minor surgery

Bags with liquid medicine inside of a hospital. Credit: Adam Hester / Getty Images

Intravenous sedation, also known as monitored anesthesia care, is a type of anesthesia that relaxes a patient through an intravenous (IV) placed in a vein. Depending on the surgical procedure, the amount of anesthesia used may range from a minimal amount – just enough to make a patient drowsy – to an amount so deep that the patient may not remember the procedure. Deeper anesthesia is often used for minimally invasive procedures such as colonoscopy.

IV sedation may be combined with regional or local anesthesia.

Types of Anesthesia

There are four main types of anesthesia used during surgery. The types include:

  • Local Anesthesia
    Local anesthesia is an injection of medication that numbs a small area. This is usually used to remove a skin mole or skin cancer.
  • Regional Anesthesia
    Regional anesthesia is used to numb a larger section of the body, usually below the waist. The anesthesia may be administered through an injection or a catheter. Patients will be awake but unable to feel the area that has been numbed. This is usually used during childbirth and for surgery of the abdomen, leg, or arm.
  • Monitored Anesthesia (IV Sedation)
    Monitored anesthesia, or IV sedation, is administered through a vein. Patients may be able to talk, depending on the level of anesthesia used, or in a deep sleep. Patients are able to breathe on their own. IV sedation is used for a colonoscopy and some plastic surgery procedures.
  • General Anesthesia
    General anesthesia is administered either through a mask on the face or intravenous until the patient loses consciousness. Breathing is controlled with an endotracheal tube that has been inserted into the windpipe. General anesthesia is used for patients having major surgery, such as knee or hip replacement or open heart surgery.

    Intravenous sedation is safe and effective for those patients needing minor surgery or a procedure that diagnoses a medical condition. 

    Benefits of Intravenous Sedation

    The benefits of using intravenous sedation during a plastic surgery procedure include the following:

    • There is a more precise amount of anesthesia administered
    • A higher level of safety
    • Less incidence of post-operative nausea, vomiting, urinary retention, pulmonary complications and malignant hyperthermia
    • Patients come out of anesthesia quickly
    • Less risk of blood clots

    Because the patient is able to breathe on their own with IV sedation, both the surgeon and the anesthesiologist are aware of the patient’s discomfort before the patient does. They can then respond with an increase in the local anesthetic or level of sedation.

    Before a Procedure with Intravenous Sedation

    Prior to undergoing a procedure with intravenous sedation, the patient should advise the doctor about allergies or conditions they may have. They should also inform the doctor about any medications they are taking and any prior surgeries and the type of anesthesia used.

    Patients will be advised of the need to arrange for a responsible adult to drive them to and from the facility for the procedure.  Patients should stop smoking to reduce the risk of slow healing after the procedure. Patients should be provided with a list of instructions they should follow on the day of the procedure.

    After a Procedure with Intravenous Sedation

    The patient may feel groggy with a slight headache and nausea. During the recovery process the patient’s vital signs will be checked, including blood pressure and oxygen levels, every fifteen minutes. One to two hours after the procedure, the patient will be provided with a list of post-operative instructions and should be able to return home. 

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