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Spinal and Epidural Anesthesia

(Spinal Block; Epidural Block)
  • Definition

    These 2 types of anesthesia numb your body from the chest down to the legs. The medication is placed directly into the spine area.
  • Reasons for Procedure

    Spinal and epidural anesthesia is frequently given for:
    Advantages of these types of anesthesia include:
    • The ability to be awake during the operation
    • Avoiding complications of general anesthesia
  • Possible Complications

    Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
    • Severe headache or back pain
    • Drop in blood pressure
    • Nerve damage
    • Infection
    • Allergic reaction to the anesthetic used
    • Longer labor during childbirth with an epidural anesthesia
    Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
    • Smoking
    • Bleeding disorders
    • Prior allergic reactions to anesthetics
    • Dehydration
    • Immune system disorders
  • What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure
    Make sure that your doctor is aware of:
    • Your drug allergies
    • Medications you are taking
    • Any heart or lung conditions you have
    • Any previous reactions that you or other family members have had to anesthesia
    • Any bleeding problems you have had in the past
    Description of the Procedure
    You will be connected to various monitors to keep track of your:
    • Blood pressure
    • Pulse
    • Oxygen content of your blood
    You may also have:
    • An IV to deliver fluids
    • A tube in your bladder to keep urine drained
    An area on your back above the spinal cord will be cleaned. A local anesthetic will be injected into the skin to numb the area. This is to decrease pain from the larger needle that will be put in your back. If you are getting spinal anesthesia, the doctor will give you one injection. The medication will be sent directly into the sac of fluid that surrounds the spinal cord.
    If you are getting epidural anesthesia, it may be delivered the same way. But, if you need more than one dose, you will have a tiny, flexible tube in place just outside of the fluid sac. This allows the doctor to give you more medication if you need it. After the surgery, a bandage will be placed over the injection spot.
    Epidural Injection
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    Immediately After Procedure
    You will stay in bed until your legs are no longer numb.
    How Long Will It Take?
    Giving spinal or epidural anesthesia usually takes about 15 minutes.
    • Spinal anesthesia—begins working right after the injection is given
    • Epidural anesthesia—takes about 10-20 minutes to begin working
    How Much Will It Hurt?
    You will feel some pain when the needle is inserted.
    Average Hospital Stay
    Your hospital stay depends on the type of surgery being done.
    Postoperative Care
    At the Hospital
    If you received epidural anesthesia, the tube may be left in place to give you more medication. When you no longer need pain control, the tube will be removed.
    At Home
    For the first 24 hours:
    • Do not drive or operate machinery
    • Do not drink alcohol
  • Call Your Doctor

    It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Persistent or severe headache or back pain
    • Lightheadedness, fainting
    • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arms or legs
    • Loss of bladder or bowel control
    • Skin rash
    • Difficulty breathing
    If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

    American Society of Anesthesiologists

    Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


    The Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society

    Health Canada


    Spinal anesthesia simulation. University of Florida website. Available at: Accessed November 19, 2013.

    What is epidural anesthesia? Baylor College of Medicine website. Available at: Updated August 2010. Accessed November 19, 2013.

    What is regional anesthesia? Baylor College of Medicine website. Available at: Updated August 2010. Accessed November 19, 2013.

    Your spinal anaesthetic. Patient UK website. Available at: Updated January 24, 2012. Accessed November 19, 2013.

    6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.

    12/30/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Anim-Somuah M, Smyth RM, Jones L. Epidural versus non-epidural or no analgesia in labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;12:CD000331.

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