An epidural anaesthetic involves injecting local anaesthetic into an area called the epidural space near your spinal cord.
The anaesthetic numbs the nerves to give you pain relief in various areas of your body.
Epidurals can be used either on their own while you are awake, or together with sedation or general anaesthesia.
They can also be used after your operation to give effective pain relief. The epidural can be maintained by giving extra doses when needed or by giving a continuous low dose.
How is epidural anaesthesia administered?
You will meet with the anaesthetist prior to your procedure and he/she will be with you throughout your time in theatre. Staff will assist you getting into a curled up position on a bed. You might be asked to bend forward and hug a pillow or to lie on your side curled up with your knees drawn toward your chest. We understand this can be an anxious time so staff will be with you to reassure and support you during the injection.
Local anaesthetic will be injected into a small area of the skin on your back. The anaesthetist will use a needle to insert a thin plastic tube (epidural catheter) into your epidural space. The needle is then removed. A small amount of anaesthetic will be inserted through the catheter to check it is in the right position. Once this check is completed the anaesthetist will inject more of the drug until the epidural is working properly.
Will I feel anything?
The local anaesthetic might sting briefly. You might feel pressure or movement when the catheter is inserted. Occasionally patients feel an sensation described as an electric shock or pain. Tell the anaesthetist immediately if this happens.
As the epidural begins to work the lower part of your body will feel very heavy. You will not be able to move your legs.
Epidurals can be used both during and after a procedure for pain management. The epidural catheter will be removed once your pain is managed. The numbness and weakness in your legs will gradually decrease over the day following your procedure. For your safety please ask for help before getting out of bed or moving around.
What are the benefits of epidural anaesthesia?
- Pain management allowing for faster mobility
- Reduced risk of nausea or vomiting
- Reduced risk of lung/leg blood clots
- Reduced risk of chest infections
- Faster return to eating and drinking
Can anyone have epidural anaesthesia?
Your anaesthetist will carefully assess your medical situation to determine if epidural anaesthesia is right for you. You may not be able to have an epidural if:
- You are taking any blood thinning drugs
- You have any history of blood clots
- You have an allergy to anaesthetics
- You have a severe deformity or arthritis of the spine
- You have an infection on your back
Are there any side effects or complications?
Everyone reacts differently to medication. As with any medical procedure you could experience some complications. These might include:
- Failure of the epidural
- Feeling nauseous or vomiting
- Low blood pressure
- Respiratory depression
- Difficultly passing urine
- Leg weakness
Rare complications may include:
- Infection around the spine
- Cardiovascular problems
- Blood clots
- Damage to nerves
- Paralysis or death
Are there any alternatives to epidural anaesthetic?
There are several other types of anaesthetic. Your surgeon or anaesthetist will recommend a type of anaesthetic based on your medical situation and the procedure you are having. Click on the links below to read about these procedures:
If you have any questions or concerns about epidural anaesthesia be sure and ask our experienced staff.
For more information about epidural anaesthetic visit The Royal College of Anaesthetists website.
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