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Spinal and epidural anesthesia

Contents of this page:

Alternative Names   

Intraspinal anesthesia; Subarachnoid anesthesia; Epidural; Epidural block; Peridural anesthesia

Definition    Return to top

Spinal and epidural anesthesia are medicines that numb parts of your body to block pain. They are given through shots in or around the spine. You will stay awake during both of these types of anesthesia.

Description    Return to top

The area of your back where the needle will be inserted will be cleaned with a special solution. Most of the time this shot will go in your lower back. This area may also be numbed with a local anesthetic. You may receive fluids through an intravenous line (IV, in a vein). You may also receive medicine to help you relax.

For an epidural:

For a spinal:

Oxygen levels in your blood, your pulse, and your blood pressure will be checked during your procedure. You will have a bandage where the needle was inserted.

Why the Procedure is Performed    Return to top

Spinal and epidural anesthesia have fewer side effects and risks than general anesthesia (asleep and pain-free). Patients usually recover much faster and can go home sooner.

Spinal anesthesia is often used for genital, urologic, or lower body procedures.

Epidural anesthesia is often used during labor and delivery and surgery in the pelvis and legs.

Epidural and spinal anesthesia are often used when:

Risks    Return to top

Spinal and epidural anesthesia are generally safe. Ask your doctor about these complications.

Before the Procedure    Return to top

Always tell your doctor or nurse:

During the days before the procedure:

On the day of the procedure:

After the Procedure    Return to top

After an epidural, the catheter will be removed, and you will lie in bed until you have feeling in your legs and can walk. You may feel sick to your stomach and be dizzy. You may be tired.

After spinal anesthesia, you will lay flat in bed for a few hours to keep from getting a headache. You may feel sick to your stomach and be dizzy. You may be tired.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Most patients feel no pain during spinal and epidural anesthesia and recover fully.

References    Return to top

Sherwood ER, Williams CG, Prough DS. Anesthesiology principles, pain management, and conscious sedation. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 18.

Hawkins JL, Arens JF, Bucklin BA, et al. Practice Guidelines for Obstetric Anesthesia: An Updated Report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Obstetric Anesthesia. Anesthesiology. April 2007;106(4).

Gerges FJ, Kanazi GE, Jabbour-khoury SI. Anesthesia for laparoscopy: a review. Journal of Clinical Anesthesia. Feb 2006;18(1).

Reynolds F. Neurological Infections After Neuraxial Anesthesia. Anesthesiology Clinics. March 2008;26(1).

Update Date: 3/17/2009

Updated by: Billy K Huh, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, Division of Pain Management, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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