Epidural anaesthesia is one of the most popular method of providing relief from pain during labour. Epidural is more requested by name by women than any other pain relief method. Epidural anesthesia is a regional anesthesia, which means that it blocks the pain in a particular part or region of the body. Unlike anaesthesia which leads to a total lack of feeling, the goal of an epidural is to provide relief from the pain, or analgesia. Epidurals work by blocking the nerve impulses from the lower segment of the spine, resulting in a decreased sensation in the lower half of the body. There are some serious side effects associated with epidural anaesthesia that overshadow the benefits it provides and makes you think about using it.
· Epidurals may cause a sudden drop in the blood pressure which can make you feel sick. This is the reason that your blood pressure is monitored closely and in case of a sudden drop, you are treated with medications and fluids.
· You may experience a serious headache which is caused by the leakage of the spinal fluid. However, this is extremely rare and only about 1 percent of women experience it. A procedure called ‘blood patch’ is performed, where your blood is injected into the epidural space to relieve a headache.
· You might experience other side effects like the ringing of ears, nausea, backache, shivering, difficulty urinating, or soreness at the point where the needle is inserted.
· You will need to alternate sides after the epidural is placed while you are lying in your bed and continuously monitor the heart rate of the fetus. Lying in the same position sometimes slows down or stops the labour.
· You may find out that the epidural makes the pushing more difficult and so there can be a need for additional interventions or medications, like forceps or a cesarean procedure. You can talk to your doctor in advance about the procedure and intervention that they use in such cases.
· After the birth, the lower half of your body may feel numb. You will require assistance in walking due to this numbness.
· After you have an epidural, you may lose bladder control as the epidural affects the surrounding nerves and you may not feel when the bladder is full. The control will return to normal when the epidural wears off.
· You may have itchy skin as an effect of the pain-relieving drugs that are used in the epidural. Either the drug in the epidural can be changed or medication can be given in order to help the itching.
· Some of the drugs used in epidural can cause drowsiness or slow breathing. It can be treated easily and you will be in close monitoring to spot this side effect.
· An infection may sometime develop around the skin where the epidural tube is placed. The infection does not spread generally but antibiotics are made necessary for the treatment of the infection. In rare cases, an emergency surgery may be needed.
· In rare cases, a permanent nerve damage may occur in the area where the catheter was inserted. This may happen due to direct damage from the catheter or the epidural tube. Other reasons may include bleeding in the epidural area pressurizing the spinal cord, infection near the spinal cord or in the epidural area.
As you prepare yourself for the labour day, read and learn as much as you can about the different pain relief options so that you are able to make better decisions.