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Epidurals – 6 Things you need to know about that you did not know before

profile of a pregnant woman holding her tummy

Medically reviewed by Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Shera.

1)  What is an Epidural?

You may have heard of an Epidural, the pain-relieving shot that some pregnant women get when they’re giving birth. But that’s not its only use. Doctors use epidural injections to relieve pain during and after surgery, as well as managing chronic pain. 

It’s an injection that goes into your “epidural space,” which is right outside of the membrane that protects your spinal cord. This procedure isn’t right for every case, but if it’s an option, it requires a lower dose of medicine and as a result has fewer side effects. Epidurals may even give you longer-lasting pain relief while helping you stay more alert and mobile.

2)  How does an Epidural work?

Some epidural injections are done with different medications, including steroids, to reduce pain and inflammation in your back, neck, arms, or legs.

Your doctor will use an X-ray with a special dye to insert the needle in the right spot. They will choose a location along your spine from the bottom of your neck to your tailbone that is closest to the nerve causing your pain. 

Conditions that can be treated by an epidural injection include:

  • Pain relief during birth
  • Pinched nerve
  • Pain radiating from the spine
  • Herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis

The procedure can take as little as 15 minutes and the numbing part of the shot may start to work fairly quickly. (The steroid part, which lasts longer, should start to work in 2 to 5 days.) The amount of time your pain relief lasts is different for each person. This type of injection doesn’t always bring pain relief. But if it does, the benefits can last up to a few months.

3)  Is an Epidural Safe?

A common side effect is that you may feel more pain until the medicine begins to work. Rarer side effects include bleeding, temporary numbness or weakness, infection, headache, or nerve damage. However Epidurals are relatively safe and the chances of nerve damage occurring are < 1/100,000. Epidurals are safe for babies. Only minimal amounts of the medication in the epidural reaches the baby and studies do not show any difference in outcomes in babies born to moms with and without epidural.

4)  Who shouldn’t get an Epidural?

There are a number of conditions that may make it risky for you get an epidural:

  • Anesthesia drug allergies
  • Blood clotting problems
  • An infection
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Some other medications you’re taking

Depending on your situation, your doctor might look for another type of pain relief for you, or you might need to wait until a better time for the procedure.

5)  Do epidurals cause chronic back pain?

As mentioned before, Epidurals rarely cause long term side effects. Although Epidurals may cause low back ache for a couple weeks after administration, they are not associated with increased chronic low back pain.

6)  Do epidurals increase the risk of cesarean section?

For expecting mothers, this has been a long source of debate, but the most recent data shows that they do not. Epidurals often increase the length of time you need to push because it can be difficult to feel the contractions, but in large studies the cesarean section rate is not increased.

On an Ending note

We hope that understanding the different types of epidurals, how they are administered, and their benefits and risks will help you in your decision-making during the course of labor and delivery as well as in other instances where pain relief is required.

Guest Credit : Dr. Shayan




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