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What are the risks of getting an epidural?

Labor is an often difficult and painful process that, for many women, detracts from the joy of having a baby. To make labor a more comfortable and enjoyable experience, Louisiana offers a few pain relief options. One such option is an epidural block. An epidural block, which an anesthesiologist delivers via a tube in your back, blocks the pain signals before they can reach your brain. It may also cause you to temporarily lose feeling below the waist. Though epidural blocks are extremely effective, they are not without risks. Healthline details a few common and not-so-common side effects of this popular pain relief method.

Some side effects of epidural blocks are common and relatively unharmful. For instance, some women may experience itching, which is a common side effect of opioids. Others may become nauseous and begin to vomit and/or develop a fever. According to study findings, approximately 23% of women who get an epidural run a fever, compared with just 7% who choose to deliver naturally.

Women who undergo epidurals also report feeling sore for a few days after giving birth. The pain is usually located in the lower back. However, it is unclear whether the soreness stems from the epidural block or from pregnancy itself.

Another common side effect of an epidural block is low blood pressure. The decrease is likely due to the fact that an epidural affects the nerve fibers that control muscle contractions within the blood vessels. This causes the blood vessels to relax, thereby resulting in a drop in blood pressure. 

A final common side effect is difficulty urinating. Because an epidural causes numbness in the lower half of the body, women are unable to feel their bladders after receiving an epidural. To help you dispel urine until the medication wears off, the doctor may insert a catheter. 

Epidurals do sometimes cause rare and dangerous side effects. For instance, there have been cases in which the anesthetic relaxes the chest muscles and makes it difficult for expectant mothers to breathe. In 1% of cases, the epidural needle inadvertently breaks the spinal cord’s membrane and causes fluid to leak. This can cause severe headaches.

You also run the risk of developing an infection after receiving an epidural. However, this is a risk you run any time you receive an injection.

Epidurals may also cause seizures or convulsions. In the worst-case scenarios, they can result in nerve damage. However, this side effect is extremely rare and affects as little as one in 200,000 women who receive an epidural. 

This information is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as legal advice.

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