Unexpected Side Effects Of An Epidural

An epidural is a method of pain management that, while most commonly used for labor pains, has also been employed to help manage chronic pain and provide pain relief during some surgical procedures (via Cleveland Clinic). The procedure targets what is called the epidural space, which is fluid surrounding the spinal cord. When an anesthetic is injected into the epidural space, it blocks pain signals by numbing the nerves.

According to Birth Injury Help Center, giving birth is one of the most painful experiences one can go through and that, as a result, epidurals are used to manage labor pain in more than 71% of deliveries across the U.S. The fact that an epidural numbs only the lower half of the body is one of the advantages, as the birthing parent can remain awake and alert during the delivery. It is also helpful in case of an emergency. If the delivery takes a turn and a C-section is needed quickly, the fact that the lower body is already numbed means that the doctor can perform the procedure immediately. For these reasons, epidurals are usually considered safe, notes Cleveland Clinic. However, there can be side effects that would-be parents should be aware of.

Epidural side effects are rare

According to Healthline, some of the more common side effects of epidurals include nausea, vomiting, and itchy skin as a result of the medication. Fever can also be a concern, with 23% of those who receive an epidural experiencing a fever during childbirth, versus 7% of those who do not. In addition, a 2006 report from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care showed that 14% of people who received epidurals saw their blood pressure drop, although not alarmingly so.

In more drastic cases, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the membrane that covers the spinal cord can accidentally be pierced during the procedure, which can lead to a severe headache. In those cases, when oral pain relief is not enough, your doctor may prescribe a blood patch procedure, in which the patient's blood is injected into the area to close the hole formed by the puncture (via Jefferson Radiology).

Talk to your doctor about potential side effects

Occasionally, an epidural can lead to some very serious complications, although these are very rare (via Cleveland Clinic). One of these complications is damage to the nerve root or spinal cord, leading to neurological issues. According to the National Health Service, this nerve damage can cause the patient to lose feeling or even the ability to move their lower body, although it's more common for the damage to be limited to numbness in a small area and to clear up within a few months at most. You should report to your anesthesiologist any numbness after your epidural is supposed to have worn off.

Cleveland Clinic says that there have also been reports of nerve damage that does not heal or, even more seriously, paralysis as the result of an epidural. However, according to UT Southwestern Medical Center, cases of paralysis or permanent harm are very rare, occurring in less than one in every 240,000 patients. However, if you have concerns about having an epidural, whether when having a baby or for another procedure, take the time to talk with your doctor and decide what you're most comfortable with.