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What Is Epidural Anesthesia?


Epidural is a kind of anesthetic (medication to block pain). It is commonly used during labor and delivery. During an epidural, anesthetic is injected into the area around your lower spine. An anesthesiologist (a medical doctor) or nurse anesthetist (CRNA) starts the epidural and monitors you throughout your procedure.

Risks and Complications

Your anesthesiologist will discuss the risks and complications of epidural with you. These include:

  • A sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Severe headache
  • Very rarely, dizziness, seizures, breathing problems, allergic reaction to the anesthetic, nerve damage, or paralysis

How Pain Is Blocked

The spinal cord is the main pathway for pain signals. These signals travel from nerves in your body through the spinal cord to your brain. The brain registers them as pain. The epidural blocks the nerves that enter your lower spine.

Numbing Your Lower Body

Anesthetic is injected into the space between the bones in the spinal column (vertebrae) and the covering around the spinal cord. This is called the epidural space. The anesthetic partly numbs your body from about the waist down into the legs. You stay awake, and you still have feeling in your upper body.

During Labor and Delivery

An epidural can be used during labor and delivery. Once you are in active labor, you'll be asked to sit on the edge of the bed or lie on your side. First a small area around your lower spine is numbed with a local anesthetic. The anesthesiologist then inserts a needle into the epidural space. A tiny plastic tube (catheter) is threaded through the needle. The needle is removed, and the anesthetic is delivered through the catheter. Sometimes a pump is attached to the catheter. The pump gives you a constant level of anesthetic throughout labor and delivery.

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