What Are the Side Effects of an Epidural?

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Many pregnant women look toward an epidural as their saving grace once the pain of labor sets in. The anesthesia is used in hospitals by over 50 percent of women in labor, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The localized procedure allows women to feel less pain in the lower body. Expectant mothers are able to stay alert sans the excessive pain that accompanies natural childbirth. Epidurals often are given in combination with other medications to increase effectiveness, the APA says. Before taking any drug, patients should discuss with their doctors any possible risks or side effects.

Lowered Blood Pressure

Nurses often check the blood pressure of women who are given epidurals because a lowered blood pressure is a possible side effect. If not caught right away and given the proper treatment, this could result in your baby not receiving adequate amounts of blood or oxygen.

Headache

Less than 1 percent of the time, an epidural causes a leakage of spinal fluid that results in a severe headache, reveals the American Pregnancy Association. This occurrence must be relieved by an injection of the patient’s blood where the epidural was given, otherwise known as a blood patch. The University of North Carolina Department of Anesthesiology assures expectant mothers that headaches due to epidurals (which can be moderate to severe) are only a temporary side effect and do not pose a serious threat to the mother or child. .

Muscle Weakness

Some women experience more weakness than others when given an epidural. This may result in the patient being unable to push with enough force to completely bring the baby out on her own. In this case, doctors may need to use forceps, vacuum extraction, a Cesarean section or other means to deliver your baby.

Slowed Labor

In some women, an epidural can cause the labor process to slow down. In these cases, doctors commonly administer the drug Pitocin, which serves to speed up the labor process.

Lasting Numbness

The effects of an epidural may wear off sooner for some women than others. Some may still experience numbness in the lower body a couple hours after giving birth. These patients may need extra help walking until the medication subsides and they regain feeling and strength in their legs.

Nerve Damage

A catheter is inserted into a woman's lower back when an epidural is administered. On extremely rare occasions, this area may experience permanent nerve damage, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The UNC Department of Anesthesiology states that neurological damage is always a possibility when using any anesthesia, although paralysis and other problems very rarely occur.

Other Side Effects

An epidural may also result in shivering, itching, aching of the back, ringing in the ears, nausea or problems urinating. The spot where the epidural needle entered the lower back may be sore for a few days, but there is no conclusive research to suggest that an epidural leads to chronic back pain, according to the UNC Department of Anesthesiology.

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