Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Anesthesia vs. pain

  1. Sep 6, 2004 #1
    When a person undergoes surgery, they must take anesthesia so that the pain is not felt by the person who is undergoing surgery.

    This is simple enough, but not so when I began to wonder how pain is felt (i.e.,the degree of which the level of pain is identified in the brain). IOW, do the chemical reactions that constitute what we refer to as "physical pain" occur? If so, to what level? Are they subconsciously registered? How does anesthesia prevent us from feeling physical pain....or does it PREVENT?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2004 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The mechanism of all anesthetics isn't known, but the most common ones used as surgical anesthetics block a particular neurotransmitter known as gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This renders the person unconscious by blocking firing of neurons (there are a lot that use this transmitter) and is different from drugs known as analgesics that just block pain without blocking consciousness.

    With regard to whether the other physical reactions that cause pain are still happening, at a local level (the site of the incision), that is still happening, which is why it still hurts when you wake up from surgery, but during the surgery, that information isn't sent to the brain.
  4. Sep 6, 2004 #3
    Do you think practices such as "mind over matter" ,in places like Zen temples (where priests are able to walk over burning coal and seemingly have no pain or bruising) are able to influence the ability of the GABA to transmit pain?

    What do you know about the relationship between psychopathy and GABA?
  5. Sep 6, 2004 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I find it amazing that the body knows when to repress pain sensation in the case of severe trauma. I watched Opra a few weeks ago (:smile:) where she interviewed a girl who got attacked by a shark and had her arm ripped off by the shoulder. She said she didn't feel any pain until 2 hours after the event. She also interviewed a lawyer who got shot many times by a client and he also didn't feel the pain of impact of the bullets. Only if he had been shot in the back, unaware of the danger, would he have felt the pain.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook