Is it common for patients undergoing a procedure where conscious sedation is used to have no memory of the procedure?

According to https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007409.htm

Conscious sedation is a combination of medicines to help you relax (a sedative) and to block pain (an anesthetic) during a medical or dental procedure. You will probably stay awake but may not be able to speak...

Why is it called conscious sedation if the patient is effectively unconscious (or at least unresponsive)? By the definition, consciousness refers to the state of being awake and aware of one's surroundings. So why is this term used when it is in fact not what a layperson would expect based on the standard definition of consciousness vs unconsciousness?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 14:07

1 Answer 1


The definitions of conscious sedation and procedural sedation certainly blend through one another, but typically "conscious sedation" means the patient appears conscious to the provider or bystander, not necessarily the patient. In procedural sedation, a patient may appear asleep or be completely dissociated (such as with ketamine). There are many examples of this on YouTube as people recover from their sedation. To all onlookers they appear conscious, but in many cases, patients don't remember any of their actions. This is why you need a buddy to pick you up from the hospital after your procedure. In neither case should a patient be sedated to the extent that they require airway control.

Facilities (as well as CMS) draw a very definite line between the above terms and general anesthesia. Many units have specific privileges related to the extent at which they can sedate and where. General anesthesia typically occurs in operating theater and typically requires airway control, mechanical ventilation, advanced medications such as paralytics, anesthesia gas, and large volumes of analgesics.

  • Haha like the answer or not, that is the reality of the medical definitions. As far as your comment in chat about doctors needing to be able to talk to their patients... Welcome to the disconnect between medicine and the lay public. Medical professionals are often so deeply entrenched in their world that they forget the average person couldn't tell you the difference between orthopedic and orthostatic. Regarding local anesthetic, nerve blocks are not always successful or consistently reliable. My wife's epidural (which is a type of regional block) wore off while being stitched. Not so fun
    – Tony Held
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 0:16
  • Twilight anesthesia is indeed the same thing and traditionally refers to patients still being able to speak to the provider though they are very unlikely to remember. This is common for GI diagnostics like colonoscopy.
    – Tony Held
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 1:38

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