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Spinal and Epidural Anesthesia

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Spinal and Epidural Anesthesia

Overview

Needle inserted near spinal cord in seated person's back, with details of spinal injection site and epidural catheter placement.

Spinal and epidural anesthesia are ways to block pain from an entire region of the body.

A doctor or nurse with special training will give you numbing medicine. It's given near your spinal cord and the nerves around it.

You may get this medicine for a procedure on the lower part of your body. One example is a surgery on your lower belly, hips, or legs. It can also be used to help control pain after a procedure. Epidural anesthesia is often used in childbirth.

How they're done

You may need to sit up and curl your body forward to round your low back. Or you'll lie on your side and curl your knees up to your chest.

First you'll get a shot to numb the skin on your back. Then the doctor or nurse will put a needle into the numbed area.

For spinal anesthesia, you'll get a shot of numbing medicine near your spinal cord. For epidural, you may get a single shot. But usually, a thin tube (catheter) is inserted through the needle into the space next to the spinal cord. Then the needle is removed and the tube stays in your back to supply the numbing medicine. Sometimes spinal and epidural anesthesia are combined.

You may also get other medicines for pain or to help you relax. You may get them through a tube in your vein, called an I.V. They may make you feel sleepy.

How to prepare

You will get a list of instructions to help you prepare. Your anesthesia specialist will let you know what to expect when you get to the hospital, during the surgery, and after.

You'll be told when to stop eating and drinking.

If you take medicine, you'll be told what you can and can't take before surgery.

You'll be asked to sign a consent form. The form says that you know the risks of anesthesia. Before you sign, your specialist will talk with you. You'll discuss the best type for you. And you'll learn the risks and benefits of that type.

Many people are nervous before they have surgery. Ask your doctor about ways to relax before surgery.

What to tell the doctor

Tell the specialist about any health problems (such as sleep apnea). Also talk about any past surgeries and if a family member had problems with anesthesia. Let them know if you're pregnant or if you smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs. Give them a list of all medicines, vitamins, and herbal products you take.

Risks

Serious problems aren't common. There may be some side effects, such as a headache, nausea, or soreness at the injection site. Your heart or breathing can be affected by the medicine. In rare cases, nerve damage can cause long-term weakness or numbness.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: June 25, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
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