Paralytic Drugs Explained

One of the Medications Given During Surgery For General Anesthesia

Anesthesia and Surgery Image
Anesthesia, Paralytic Drugs & Surgery. Photo: © Andrew Olney/Getty Images

Definition: A paralytic is a category of medications that cause extreme muscle relaxation that renders most muscles of the body unable to move.

Why Paralytics Are Used

Paralytics are used as part of general anesthesia, to prevent movement during surgery.  If anesthesia just made the patient sleep, they would still be able to move during the procedure.  This would result in serious issues for the surgeon, who is working with very sharp instruments on delicate areas of the body.

During surgery, even the smallest involuntary movement, such as a muscles twitches, could cause a surgical error.  Something like a sneeze could be catastrophic.  For this reason, it is absolutely necessary that the patient never moves during surgery, with the exception of the movement necessary to breathe.  

Paralytic Drugs and Breathing

The use of a paralytic agent makes it impossible to use most of the muscles of the body.  The muscles of the diaphragm, which help the lungs fill with oxygen, are unable to move, so it is impossible to draw a breath. Once the paralytic medication is given, the ventilator and a breathing tube are necessary. 

This type of medication is given through an IV and is only available in hospitals and surgical facilities.  

What Paralytics Don't Do

Paralytics only keep the body from moving.  Without sedation, the patient would be wide awake during surgery and unable to move.

For this reason, sedation is also given during surgery to make the patient unaware of what is going on around them.  

It is the combination of the sedating medications and the paralytic that make general anesthesia successful for surgery patients.

Also Known As: general anesthesia, paralytic agent, paralytic drug, paralytic medication,

Common Misspellings: paralitic, parolitic, parlitic, parolytic, parolitic, paralitics,

Examples: The paralytic was administered by the anesthesiologist.

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