Epidurals, spinals and combinations come with risks

A woman who is in labor is often in great pain. Some women choose to not have to deal with this fact of labor by asking to have an epidural. Although this is an excellent relief for many women, it isn’t without risks. Any woman who is going to ask for this procedure during her labor needs to understand the risks of it.

Sometimes, a woman asks for an epidural but she might be offered a spinal block or a combined spinal-epidural block. These are a bit different, but they have the same primary risks. Here are a few points you need to know about these forms of pain relief during labor:

The 3 types

An epidural block provides anesthetic and anagelsic pain into the spinal column through a tube that is inserted and remains in place throughout the labor and delivery. It takes a few minutes to work, but provides long lasting relief.

The spinal block is given through a shot inserted into the spinal fluid. Because there isn’t a constant flow of medicine, the effects will wear out in one to two hours, but the relief is almost immediate from this form.

The combination of a spinal and an epidural works quickly because you have the immediate benefit of the shot but the long-lasting relief of the continual flow of medicine through the catheter inserted into the spinal fluid.

The risks of the 3 types

The primary side effect that women will notice is the loss of sensation in the area of the contractions. This is welcome, but it can come with some other effects, including a headache, itching or a drop in blood pressure. Some women might become nauseous or vomit. Soreness around the area where the procedure was done is common. Fever is an issue for around 23 percent of women who have an epidural.

More serious risks of an epidural include:

  • Problems with breathing, which is the result of the anesthetic impacting your chest muscles.
  • Infection due to the bacteria entering the skin through the needle stick.
  • Severe headache caused by the needle piercing the spinal cord membrane and allowing spinal fluid to leak out.
  • Nerve damage from the needle striking a nerve during insertion.
  • Seizures caused by the medication getting into the veins.

For women with the serious side effects, there is a chance that long-term issues from the maternal birth injury might persist. In some cases, such as if there is a spinal fluid leak, surgery may be required.