An anesthetic (anaesthetic in British English) is a drug that causes anesthesia, which is a reversible loss of sensation. Anesthetics contrast with analgesics (painkillers), which relieve pain without eliminating sensation. These drugs are generally administered to facilitate surgery. A wide variety of drugs are used in modern anesthetic practice. Many are rarely used outside of anesthesia, although others are used commonly by all disciplines. Anesthetics are categorized into two classes: general anesthetics, which cause a reversible loss of consciousness, and local anesthetics, which cause a reversible loss of sensation for a limited region of the body while maintaining consciousness. Combinations of anesthetics are sometimes used for their synergistic and additive therapeutic effects. Adverse effects, however, may also be increased.
Each of the local anesthetics have the suffix "-caine" in their names.
Local anesthetics are agents that prevent transmission of nerve impulses without causing unconsciousness. They act by binding to fast sodium channels from within (in an open state). Local anesthetics can be either ester- or amide-based.
Ester local anesthetics (e.g., procaine, amethocaine, cocaine, benzocaine, tetracaine) are generally unstable in solution and fast-acting, and allergic reactions are common.
Amide local anesthetics (e.g., lidocaine, prilocaine, bupivicaine, levobupivacaine, ropivacaine, mepivacaine, dibucaine and etidocaine) are generally heat-stable, with a long shelf life (around 2 years). They have a slower onset and longer half-life than ester anesthetics, and are usually racemic mixtures, with the exception of levobupivacaine (which is S(-) -bupivacaine) and ropivacaine (S(-)-ropivacaine). These agents are generally used within regional and epidural or spinal techniques, due to their longer duration of action, which provides adequate analgesia for surgery, labor, and symptomatic relief.
Only preservative-free local anesthetic agents may be injected intrathecally.