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Inhalation anesthetic agents: Properties and delivery

Stephen Robert Hays, MD, FAAP
Section Editor
Girish P Joshi, MB, BS, MD, FFARCSI
Deputy Editor
Nancy A Nussmeier, MD, FAHA


This topic will review the properties, pharmacokinetics, and delivery of inhalation anesthetics, including the potent volatile agents (sevoflurane, desflurane, isoflurane [and in some countries, halothane]) and one gas (nitrous oxide [N2O]).

Use of anesthesia machines for delivery of these inhalation anesthetics is reviewed separately. (See "Anesthesia machines: Prevention, diagnosis, and management of malfunctions".)

Clinical effects and specific uses for each of the inhalation anesthetic agents are reviewed separately. (See "Inhalation anesthetic agents: Clinical effects and uses".)


The precise mechanisms whereby inhalation agents induce general anesthesia are not known, and no single proposed mechanism of action fully explains their clinical effects. (See "Inhalation anesthetic agents: Clinical effects and uses", section on 'Clinical effects'.) Various ion channels including gamma-aminobutyric acidA (GABAA), glycine, and glutamate receptors located in the central nervous system (ie, brain and spinal cord) are affected by the volatile inhalation anesthetics (sevoflurane, desflurane, and isoflurane) [1-4]. Nitrous oxide (N2O) gas is thought to act both by agonism of GABAA receptors and by antagonism of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors [5,6].

Similarly, the mechanisms by which various intravenous agents are able to induce general anesthesia are not fully understood. (See "General anesthesia: Intravenous induction agents" and "General anesthesia: Maintenance and emergence", section on 'Total intravenous anesthesia'.)

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 16, 2017.
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