Stace Anaesthetists

Epidural Anaesthesia involves the injection of local anaesthetic drugs through a small catheter into an area outside the spinal cord into the spine known as the “epidural space”. This produces a loss of sensation, pain and movement within 5 to 15 minutes, in the lower body for surgery. It can also be used to provide just pain relief for up to 3 days via the catheter. Epidural catheters are used for pain relief in child birth, and can be strengthened to provide full anaesthesia for Caesarian Section.

  • An epidural can be ‘topped up’ with more local anaesthetic during or after the surgery and therefore the pain relieving effects can last longer than a Spinal anaesthetic.
  • An epidural block can be used to make you comfortable for several days.
  • Your legs may feel heavy, weak and numb, leading to restricted mobility.
  • Difficulty passing urine requiring a bladder catheter, which carries a small risk of urinary infection.
  • A fall in blood pressure, this is easily treated with intravenous fluids and medications if necessary.
  • Shivering, nausea and vomiting.

Modern anaesthesia is generally very safe. Unfortunately with every anaesthetic technique there is a possibility of unwanted side effects or complications. These may be unpleasant but can be treated and usually do not last long.

Common side effects of Epidural are:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Low blood pressure. This may make you feel faint or sick. It is easily treated through the administration of intravenous fluids and drugs to raise your blood pressure.
  • Pruritus - itching is a common side effect of Morphine like drugs.
  • Headache - there are multiple causes of mild headache including the surgery, the anaesthetic drugs and dehydration. If you have a severe headache after a spinal block, you may need a specific treatment to relieve the headache. Your anaesthetist will discuss this further with you.
  • Pain, backache and/or bruising at injection site.
  • Difficulty in passing urine. You may find it difficult to empty your bladder normally for as long as the epidural lasts. Your bladder function returns to normal after the  epidural wears off. You may require an indwelling catheter in your bladder until the epidural wears off.
  • Nerve damage - is a rare complication of Epidural. Temporary loss of sensation, pins and needles and sometimes muscle weakness may last for a few days or even weeks. In most cases, there is a full recovery.
  • Infection around the injection site.
  • Cardiac arrest.
  • Permanent nerve damage/paralysis. Very rare complication (ie. less than 1 in 100,000).
  • Blood clots with spinal cord compression.
  • Epidural abscess.
  • High spinal block affecting breathing by paralysing the muscles that control respiration.
  • Meningitis.
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