Updated: Aug 21, 2019
Epidural analgesia is said to have many side effects, how true are they?
(Source: Pregnancy Singapore)
Epidural analgesia (EA) is reliable and effective way to relieve labour pain. Pain relief is achieved by the injection of local anesthetic drugs through a small tube into the epidural space of the lower back. This is performed by an anaesthetist.
Although epidural reduces labour pain substantially, some pain may still be felt, especially when pushing of the baby.
Myths vs Truths
#1. "There are side effects associated with epidural "
Some minor side effects may occur but they are often transient. These includes:
Loss of sensation and weakness: Numbness of the legs and lower part of the body is expected. The urge to urinate may also be lost. As the epidural effect wears out, sensation and strength are restored in the legs.
Nausea: This may result from a drop of blood pressure or effect of the epidural drugs. It can be treated with medication.
Shivering: This occurs although the woman may not be feeling cold. This is harmless and does not require treatment.
Itch: A mild itch on the body is more common. This is self-limiting and will subside very soon.
Headache: There is a 1% chance of headache after EA. The headache occurs after delivery and is worsened by the upright posture. Medications and a procedure called epidural “blood patch” can be used to treat severe headaches. In most cases, the headache resolves with time.
#2. "Epidural causes chronic backache"
Studies show no link between chronic back pain and epidural. Backache is common after childbirth, with or without EA. Proper back care during pregnancy and after childbirth is important.
#3. "Epidural harms the baby"
Epidural is safe although some transient change in the baby’s heartbeat may occur.
#4. "Epidural can cause paralysis"
This is actually very rare. The risk of permanent damage is 1 in 50,000 – 100,000. The risk of paralysis is 1 in 1,000,000.
#5. "Epidural prolongs labour and leads to C-section"
EA does not result in a greater chance of C-section. There is slightly increased chance of instrumental delivery.