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Learning About Spinal Anesthesia

Spinal anesthesia

What is spinal anesthesia?

Spinal anesthesia is a way to control pain during surgery.

A doctor with special training will give you a shot of the medicine. It's given near your spinal cord and the nerves that connect to it.

You may get this medicine for surgery on the lower part of your body. This includes your lower belly, hips, or legs.

How is it done?

You may need to sit up and lean forward. Or you will lie on your side with your knees curled up to your chest.

First you will get a shot to numb the skin on your back. Then the doctor will give a shot of the anesthetic near your spinal cord.

Your body will soon feel numb below and a little above the place where you had the shot. You may not be able to move your legs for a few hours.

You may also get other medicines for pain or to help you relax. You may get them through a tube in your vein, called an IV. They may make you feel sleepy.

Why is it used?

Spinal anesthesia lets your doctor block pain from one area of your body. It's used instead of general anesthesia, which affects your whole body and puts you into deep sleep. Spinal anesthesia doesn't put you to sleep. It's less likely to affect your breathing. It also has fewer side effects.

Before your surgery, your anesthesia provider will ask about any health conditions you have that may affect your care.

What can you expect after spinal anesthesia?

After your surgery:

  • Numbness from the anesthetic should wear off in a few hours.
  • Your doctor or nurse will ask about your pain as you recover. He or she will adjust your medicine as necessary.
  • You won't be allowed to walk until it is safe for you to do so.

Major side effects from anesthesia aren't common. But all types of anesthesia have some risk. Serious but rare risks include nerve injury, breathing problems, heart attack, stroke, and reaction to the medicine. After your surgery, you may have a spinal headache. This is a headache that gets worse when you sit or stand up but goes away when you lie down. Your anesthesia provider may treat the pain with a shot called an epidural blood patch.

Your anesthesia provider will closely watch your vital signs during anesthesia and surgery. This includes your blood pressure and heart rate.

For minor surgeries, you may go home the same day. For other surgeries, you may stay in the hospital.

Your doctor will check on your recovery and answer any questions.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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