What Is an Epidural?

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  • Written By: Diana Bocco
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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An epidural or epidural anesthesia is often associated with childbirth, although the truth is that it can be used in the treatment of several types of physical ailments and pains or neuralgia where general anesthesia or more invasive procedures are not recommended or not suitable. It is recommended in the following cases:

  • An epidural is a choice given to women during natural childbirth. It numbs the pain without affecting muscle power, which means a woman can no longer feel the contractions but is still able to push when directed to do so by her doctor.

  • It can sometimes be used for Cesarean section surgeries, although this may not be enough anesthetic, so doctors can sometimes recommend additional drugs or general anesthesia.

  • An epidural can be used to treat certain types of chronic pain that have not responded to any other type of localized or general treatment. Often referred to as an epidural steroid injection, this uses a steroid to treat pain and inflammation often associated with back pain.

  • It is effective for most types of pain that have to do with the lower body, especially the abdomen and pelvis.

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The anesthesia is delivered by inserting an injection or a catheter in the epidural space, a membranous area in the spine. Once the catheter has been placed, a series of drugs are administered through the it, which cause a temporary but complete loss of sensation in the area. During childbirth, a simple epidural injection may be enough for most women, although doctors may elect to place a catheter anyway. The injection itself may be slightly painful when performed, as it involves inserting a long needle deep into the spine. Most people, however, report only feeling pressure and discomfort, rather than pain, when receiving the shot.

Complications from the use of the epidural are small and rare. Less than 1 in 10,000 women experience some type of nerve damage, accidental dural puncture, or catheter misplacement. Headaches and back pain have also been reported after receiving this anesthesia. In most cases, the effects are temporary and reverse themselves a few hours or days after the catheter is removed.

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Discuss this Article

anon324844
Post 6

Always meet with an anesthesiologist ahead of time to go over options. A spinal anesthetic will be easier next time. --anesthesiologist

anon98423
Post 4

I recently delivered via c-section, and I had an epidural administered. I am certain that the anesthesiologist gave me more drugs on top of that and I had an extremely scary reaction to all the anesthetics in my body. I lost all feeling in my body from my neck down, my heart rate skyrocketed and I had a very difficult time breathing. I would like to have another child but I'm scared. How can I prevent this from happening again?

anon79448
Post 3

My husband has a disc protrusion and tears of annulus. the pain doctor recommends the injections for possible pain control. what do you recommend us to do?

anon7084
Post 2

My doctor has mentioned an epidural delivering an anti-inflammatory to shrink a bulging disc. My guess is, it does not have the same effect as an epidural anesthetic; I'd appreciate clarification. Are other medications ever delivered by needle into the spine for other conditions? In other words, are epidurals used more comprehensively?

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