If the idea of general anesthesia makes you nervous, you’re not alone. In a survey of 400 patients published in the Journal of Anesthesiology, 81 percent said they were anxious about going under. Common fears included not waking up after surgery, being nauseous and feeling pain. Women were slightly more worried than men.

The best way to put anesthesia fear to rest is to talk to the medical professional who’ll be in charge of your case. This will be either an anesthesiologist or a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). If your doctor doesn’t schedule an appointment for you, ask him to. Be prepared to tell the anesthesiologist about your medical background and to ask any questions you have about what to expect. The more you know, the less nervous you’ll be.

5 important things to tell your anesthesiologist

It’s possible the anesthesiologist or CRNA who will put you under doesn’t know everything about your medical history, even in this era of electronic medical records. At the pre-surgery meeting, the American Society of Anesthesiologists recommends you speak up if you:

1. Have any chronic medical problems. These are conditions that you take medication for or that your doctor monitors regularly, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma. It’s especially important for the anesthesiologist to know if you have sleep apnea.

2. Have had changes in your general health. This might include a newly diagnosed condition, recurrence of a previous health problem or a recent hospitalization. Also tell the anesthesiologist if you have symptoms of a cold or flu. Even if your surgery is two weeks away, it’s likely it will need to be rescheduled, says Hillel Ephros, DMD, MD, chairman of the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey.

3. Have allergies. Tell the anesthesiologist about any bad reactions you’ve ever had to medications, including over-the-counter drugs, foods and materials like tape or latex. Latex allergies can be especially problematic, because surgical gloves and some anesthesia equipment are made of latex. Typically someone with an allergy to latex will be scheduled in a special latex-free operating room or at least be the first patient of the day in the regular OR, before latex particles begin circulating in the air.

4. Have ever had a problem with anesthesia before. If you know that a family member has had a bad experience with general anesthesia in the past, share that too.

5. Smoke, use recreational drugs or regularly take OTC medications or nutritional supplements. Smokers are at higher risk of complications and some drugs and supplements can react badly with anesthesia medication.

4 questions to ask your anesthesiologist (and some likely answers)

1. What will you do to put me under? You’ll either inhale medication in vapor form through a breathing tube or mask or it will be administered into a vein through an IV. Your anesthesiologist can tell you which method to expect and explain it in detail. He will also reassure you that while you’re out, your blood pressure, breathing and pulse will be monitored constantly.

2. How should I prepare? Typically you’ll be told not to drink or eat anything after midnight the night before your operation. If your stomach is empty, you’ll be less likely to vomit during surgery, which can be dangerous. If you take daily medication, the anesthesiologist will tell you if you should take it on schedule or skip it.

3. What can I expect when I wake up? You’ll probably feel tired, groggy and perhaps nauseous. Other symptoms that can occur as anesthesia wears off include dry mouth, restlessness or feeling cold. If you had a breathing tube, your throat may be sore.

4. How soon will I be able to go home? That will depend on the type of surgery you have and how you responded to the anesthesia. It’s different for everyone. What is for sure is you will have to arrange for a responsible adult to drive you home. Ideally, you should have a loved one or other adult stay with you for 24 hours to watch for any potential problems. 

Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles journalist specializing in health, behavior and fitness topics.