What Is Epidural Anesthesia?
Epidural anesthesia is an anesthesia that is frequently used to replace general anesthesia in certain surgeries. The medication is injected via catheter into the epidural space of the spinal canal. This space is the outermost layer of the spinal canal that encases all of the other spinal material. It also contains all o the spinal nerve roots which makes injection of anesthesia into the epidural space an economical solution to pain relief or total block of sensation in the lower part of the body. The epidural works by blocking the signal transmission properties of nerve fibers near or inside o the spinal cord.
Epidural anesthesia is often confused with spinal anesthesia. The two are very similar in that they are both injected into the same general area. However, there are several distinct differences:
- Epidurals can be injected anywhere along the spinal column.
- Epidurals are slower acting than spinal injections.
- Epidurals provide an easier method for segmental anesthesia.
- Epidurals use a catheter to allow more administration of medication.
Some people are not good candidates for epidurals. These people can suffer serious complications and doctors will use another method of anesthesia or pain relief. Patients that have scoliosis, spina bifida, and other spinal abnormalities should not have epidurals. People that have disorders of the nervous system, like multiple sclerosis, should not have an epidural nor should anyone that has had previous spinal surgery. People on blood thinners or with a bleeding disorder should avoid the procedure. Infection near the place of injection may mean that a delay in the procedure should be considered.
One other consideration is when people are allergic to anesthesia. It is possible o have multiple allergies or reactions to anesthesia. Some people may ind that they become nauseous, others break out in hives, and still others have difficulty breathing. In serious cases of allergic reaction the patients can go into seizures and experience shock. These situations are serious and can even result in death if steps are not taken to resolve or treat the reaction quickly.
What Is Epidural Anesthesia Used For?
A common application of an epidural is for pain relief during childbirth. Analgesia is used instead of anesthesia in order to provide pain relief, yet allow movement. Women are able to push without too much difficulty, but their pain is significantly decreased. The use of an epidural allows quick administration of anesthesia in case of an emergency where a C-section is needed.
There are some complications that may come with the use of epidural in childbirth. Headaches are the most reported, along with dizziness, difficulty breathing, and least common – seizures.
Another instance or use of epidural is for surgery where the patient needs to be awake. Some patients do not respond well to general anesthesia, but regional works well for them. For surgeries that do not require the patient be asleep or are short, the epidural may be the best route.
Pain relief after surgery is another option for using epidurals. When using this strategy the need for certain pain killers is reduced. Complications that are usually considered ‘common’ are also reduced – such as heart attacks and respiratory issues.
Recovering from Epidural Anesthesia.
Recovery from an epidural is generally uncomplicated. The area that has been numbed will be without feeling for some time after surgery – perhaps a few hours. Even once feeling returns it can be difficult to move the limb if a leg or arm was immobilized. As the anesthesia wears off it can feel much like it does when a body part has been asleep. A pins and needles feeling. It is important to tell the doctor I there is any pain when the feeling begins to return. The medical staf can provide medication for pain relief.
If any part of the lower body has been numbed by an epidural care should be taken when trying to get out of bed or during walking. It isn’t uncommon for a patient to stumble or even fall when they try to walk too soon during recovery from an epidural.