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Epidural anaesthesia helps in blocking the pain in a particular part of the body. Unlike general anaesthesia, which when administered leads to a total lack of feeling, epidural anaesthesia provides relief from pain by decreasing any sensation in the lower half of the body. Although many women opt for it during labour, epidural anaesthesia comes with its share of side effects on the mother and the baby.
Side Effects of an Epidural on the Mother
Following are the side effects of epidural anaesthesia on the mother:
1. A Drop in Blood Pressure
Administering epidural anaesthesia can result in a sudden drop in blood pressure level. It can result in nausea or dizziness. This is the reason why blood pressure is continuously monitored after epidural anaesthesia to make sure that the blood flow to the baby is sufficient. In case of a drop in the blood pressure level, IV drips, medications and oxygen are immediately given to the mother.
About 1% of women may experience a severe headache if there is leakage of spinal fluid. If a headache is continuous and persistent, a “blood patch” which is a procedure to inject the woman’s own blood into the epidural space, is carried out. This provides relief from a headache.
3. Urination Problem
Epidural anaesthesia may cause a problem in urination. A urinary catheter may be required to help in urination after epidural anaesthesia is administered. However, this is a rare condition.
4. Back Pain
One of the most common epidural side effects is back pain. Back pain is caused due to soreness where the needle is inserted. It may also be caused due to spinal fluid leak or allergic reaction to any of the substances that are injected or present in the needle.
5. Normal Delivery Becomes Difficult
Epidural may often make it difficult to push out the baby during childbirth. Therefore, other medical interventions may be required like a c-section or forceps to give birth.
6. Numbness after Childbirth
Women who are administered epidural anaesthesia during childbirth may experience numbness in the lower portion of their body. This may happen for quite some time even after giving birth, so much so that they may even require assistance in walking for a short distance.
7. Nerve Damage
Administering epidural anaesthesia may sometimes cause permanent damage in the area where the catheter was inserted. This may require several weeks or months to heal, and some women don’t even recover completely.
8. Other Side Effects
Some women after being administered epidural anaesthesia may experience shivering, ear problems like ringing ears, tingling sensation in the legs, itching, or even fever.
Epidural Side Effects on a Baby
Epidural anaesthesia may even affect the baby:
- The immune system of a newborn may get affected by local anaesthetics used in epidurals.
- Epidurals may even cause a drop in foetal blood and oxygen supply. This may happen if and when the mother’s blood pressure level becomes lower than normal.
- After being administered epidural anaesthesia, the mother-to-be may even have a fever. This, in turn, may affect the baby’s APGAR score. It may cause the newborn to suffer from seizures which may at times prove to be fatal.
- It may also cause foetal bradycardia which is a condition in which there is a decrease in the foetal heart rate.
- Babies born to mothers who took epidural during childbirth may have a significant neuro-behavioural problem.
- The newborn may take more time to latch and suck since the epidural anaesthesia dulls the sensation of the baby’s soft palate which is required in doing so.
- The newborn may take more time progressing after birth. He may have to spend more time in the NICU away from his mother.
What are the Side Effects of Epidural Postpartum
Epidurals are not only administered during labour. They are also given in case of operations in the lower body parts and in some cases used in postoperative pain care relief. However, people experience epidural side effects years later, and in case of babies who are born of mothers who took epidurals during labour, epidural side effects after birth can be seen. Listed below are some postpartum side effects of epidural:
1. Epidural Haematomas
This is caused when an epidural needle or catheter punctures a blood vessel. Bacteria may enter while being injected or when the catheter is inserted, and cause an epidural abscess.
2. Minor Problems
In some cases, a person may experience minor neurological problems such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the particular area of the body even hours after an epidural. This may be caused due to nerve damage while a needle or epidural catheter was inserted.
Paralysis, weakness, or loss of sensation over a large part of the body is caused due to rare complications. This may be due to the pressure from the accumulation of blood (epidural haematoma) or pus (abscess) which damages the spinal cord and the nerves that surround it.
4. Back Pain
Pain in the back may occur in the area where the epidural needle has been inserted. This is caused due to tissue irritation. However, this pain usually ceases in a few days time.
5. Itchy Skin
This is caused due to the side effects of the pain-relieving drugs in the epidural. It can be treated by changing the medication.
Epidural anaesthesia is considered to be a highly effective form of pain relief during childbirth. With so many side effects, it cannot be considered to be absolutely safe for the mother and the baby. Having said that it is beneficial in more ways than one during childbirth, it is best to avoid using it unless needed.
Also Read: How to Achieve Painless Normal Delivery