Anaesthetics, Epidural Anaesthetic

What is Epidural Anaesthesia?

Epidural anaesthesia, often referred to as ‘an epidural’, is a procedure where an injection is given in the back that numbs the nerves and stops you feeling pain. The areas that can be numbed via this method are; chest, abdomen, pelvic area, legs.

How does an epidural work?

During an epidural, anaesthetic is injected into an area of the spine known as the epidural space. The anaesthetic then works by numbing the pain nerves as they enter the spinal cord. The full extent of the numbness will depend on the type of drug used, and the quantity that is injected. Once the medication has worn off, the feeling will return to the affected areas. 

When is an Epidural used?

They can be used to numb sensation and provide pain relief in situations such as:

  • During childbirth
  • During a caesarean section
  • After surgery that has been carried out under general anaesthetic
  • During other types of surgery- such as knee surgery, hip replacement surgery, rib or chest fractures, and amputation of the lower limbs

Side effects and possible complications

Sometimes, an epidural may not work. This can happen if:

  • It is difficult to find the epidural space
  • The local anaesthetic does not spread evenly around the epidural space
  • The catheter falls out

Side Effects

An epidural anaesthetic is usually a safe procedure but as with every medical procedure, side effects and complications can occur. The most common of these side effects is hypotension also known as low blood pressure. This is due to the local anaesthetic used. The blood pressure will be monitored and medicine may be given during the procedure.

After an epidural, the anaesthetic causes you to lose the feeling in your bladder when it is full. A catheter is inserted into your bladder to allow the urine to drain away. Your bladder will return to normal as soon as the epidural wears off.

There is also the possibility of itchy skin, sickness, backache, infection, severe headaches and Epidural haematoma. Many of these are rare but if you have any worries check with your consultant beforehand. 

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