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Spinal and Epidural Anesthesia

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Reasons for Procedure | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor

Definition

These two types of anesthesia numb your body from the chest down to the legs. The medication is placed directly into the spine area.

Reasons for Procedure

Spinal and epidural anesthesia is frequently given for surgeries involving:

Advantages of these types of anesthesia include:

Possible Complications

Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have spinal and epidural anesthesia, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Severe headache or back pain
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Nerve damage
  • Infection
  • Allergic reaction to the anesthetic used
  • Longer labor during childbirth with an epidural anesthesia

Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Smoking
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Prior allergic reactions to anesthetics
  • Dehydration
  • Immune system disorders

Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the surgery.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Make sure that your doctor is aware of:

  • Your drug allergies
  • Medications you are taking
  • Any heart or lung conditions you have
  • Any previous reactions that you or other family members have had to anesthesia
  • Any bleeding problems you have had in the past

Description of the Procedure

You will be connected to various monitors to keep track of your:

  • Blood pressure
  • Pulse
  • Oxygen content of your blood

You may also have:

  • An IV to deliver fluids
  • A tube in your bladder to keep urine drained

An area on your back above the spinal cord will be cleaned. A local anesthetic will be injected into the skin to numb the area. This is to decrease pain from the larger needle that will be put in your back. If you are getting spinal anesthesia, the doctor will give you one injection. The medication will be sent directly into the sac of fluid that surrounds the spinal cord.

If you are getting epidural anesthesia, it may be delivered the same way. But, if you need more than one dose, you will have a tiny, flexible tube in place just outside of the fluid sac. This allows the doctor to give you more medication if you need it. After the surgery, a bandage will be placed over the injection spot.

Epidural Injection

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Immediately After Procedure

You will stay in bed until your legs are no longer numb.

How Long Will It Take?

Giving spinal or epidural anesthesia usually takes about 15 minutes.

  • Spinal anesthesia—begins working right after the injection is given
  • Epidural anesthesia—takes about 10-20 minutes to begin working

How Much Will It Hurt?

You will feel some pain when the needle is inserted.

Average Hospital Stay

Your hospital stay depends on the type of surgery being done.

Postoperative Care

At the Hospital

If you received epidural anesthesia, the tube may be left in place to give you more medication. When you no longer need pain control, the tube will be removed.

At Home

When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • For the first 24 hours:
    • Do not drive or operate machinery.
    • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions .

Call Your Doctor

After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Persistent or severe headache or back pain
  • Lightheadedness, fainting
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arms or legs
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Skin rash
  • Difficulty breathing

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.

 

RESOURCES:

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

References:

  • Spinal anesthesia simulation. University of Florida website. Available at: http://vam.anest.ufl.edu/simulations/spinalanesthesia.php. Accessed November 19, 2013.
  • Epidural anesthesia. Baylor College of Medicine website. Available at: https://www.bcm.edu/departments/anesthesiology/index.cfm?pmid=17799. Updated August 2010. Accessed November 19, 2013.
  • Your spinal anesthetic. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/your-spinal-anaesthetic. Updated January 24, 2012. Accessed November 19, 2013.
  • 6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
  • 12/30/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Anim-Somuah M, Smyth RM, Jones L. Epidural versus non-epidural or no analgesia in labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;12:CD000331.

Last reviewed September 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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