The History of Anesthesia Use For Surgery

The History of Anesthesia Use For Surgery

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Title: Unveiling the Origin and History of Anesthesia

The use of anesthesia has revolutionized the field of surgery, enabling painless and safe procedures for patients. Have you ever wondered how anesthesia came to be? In this blog we will embark on an abbreviated history of anesthesia.


Early anesthesia can be traced back to ancient but one of the first European accounts occurred in the 1200s when Theodoric of Lucca, an Italian physician and bishop, “used sponges soaked with opium and mandragora [from the mandrake plant] for surgical pain relief,” according to Britain’s History of Anaethesia Society. Hashish and Indian hemp were also commonly used as painkillers.

Innovations in Anesthesia  

Up until the mid-1800s, surgeons had little to offer for pain management other than opium, alcohol or a bullet to bite on as forms of anesthesia and pain management. Britain’s Daily Mail describes medicine during the U.S. Civil War as a grisly ordeal. “A blood-curdling range of saws, knives and sharp hooks were used to administer much-needed surgery to maimed fighters,” the paper wrote back in 2011. “But rather than being comfortably anesthetizedthe soldiers had to grit their teeth through the pain of having their limbs amputated”.

Medicinal anesthesia remained a challenge during the Civil War but, 2-3 decades earlier work was underway to develop safe and effective anesthesia. Our timeline begins in the 1840’s and runs through 1990’s. This timeline will hit some of the key advances in anesthesia development and use.


Sulfuric ether was used to anesthetize a man who needed surgery to remove a vascular tumor from his neck, according to “The Painful Story Behind Modern Anesthesia” by Dr. Howard Markel.


A Scottish obstetrician starts giving women chloroform to ease the pain of childbirth. Chloroform quickly becomes a popular anesthetic for surgery and dental procedures.


Chloroform was used on Britain’s Queen Victoria when she gave birth to Prince Leopold in 1853 & Princess Beatrice in 1857.


Cocaine is introduced as an anesthetic for eye surgery.


Development of the first anesthesia record using observed respiratory rate and palpated pulse rate.


The first spinal anesthetic was conducted using cocaine; 10 years later, the intravenous regional (“Bier”) block was introduced.


A chloroform-ether mixture was administered to the future King Edward VII.


The carbon dioxide (CO2) absorbing anesthesia system is developed, allowing for a patient to re-breathe their exhaled air containing the anesthetic, cleansed of the carbon dioxide, resulting in the use of less anesthetic and the avoidance of waste.


The first ethylene-oxygen surgical anesthetic is administered.


Continuous Caudal Anesthesia is developed. It is an innovation in obstetrical anesthesia that provides continuous pain relief for prolonged or difficult labor.


The world’s first successful anesthetic use of the muscle relaxant; curare.


APGAR Score is published.


Halothane is introduce. It’s the first modern-day brominated general anesthetic.


Human trials of the inhalational anesthetic methoxyflurane begin.


Human trials of the dissociative intravenous anesthetic ketamine begin.


Human trials of the inhalational anesthetic enflurane begin.


Isoflurane is clinically introduced as an inhalational anesthetic.


Desflurane is clinically introduced as an inhalational anesthetic.


Sevoflurane is clinically introduced as an inhalational anesthetic.

In conclusion, this blog is an abbreviated history of anesthesia with the information being derived from Wood Library-Museum. Many effective medicines, techniques and procedures have been developed throughout pain management history and in recent years. This blog is not meant to represent a comprehensive history of anesthesia or to be used as medical advice for any condition or medical situation. Always consult with your physician, surgeon, and/or anesthesiologist regarding your unique and personal situation and pain management needs.