One of the essential characteristics of general anesthesia is akinesia, or lack of patient movement. The development and use of muscle relaxant drugs without any anesthetic properties to specifically produce akinesia in order to facilitate surgery during general anesthesia was a major advance in the field of anesthesiology. Though patients understand the need for immobility during surgery, they are still terrified of the prospect of being paralyzed and awake during surgery. The truth is that your anesthesiologist will often use a muscle-paralyzing drug during anesthesia to facilitate surgery and avoid the dangers associated with deep levels of general anesthesia.
The term muscle relaxant used in this discussion does not refer to drugs in the Valium family. The muscle relaxant drugs employed in anesthesia are relatives of curare, the plant extract used by the Amazon Indians on the tips of arrows and darts to paralyze big game, including Homo sapiens. In fact, the first muscle relaxant to be introduced into clinical anesthesiology was curare in 1942.1 This was the seminal event that marked the beginning of the widespread use (and occasional abuse) of muscle relaxant drugs in the specialty of anesthesiology. Muscle relaxants (more correctly, neuromuscular blocking drugs) are an important supplement to many general anesthetics.
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