An epidural catheter, called an "epidural" for short, is a tiny tube that
puts pain medicine directly into the area in your back around your spinal
cord. This area is called the epidural space.
An epidural can be
used during childbirth to partly or fully numb the lower body. The amount of
medicine you get will affect how numb you are. A low dose
of medicine will decrease pain. But it often will allow enough feeling and
muscle strength to push during contractions. A higher dose may
block all feeling. This may make it harder for you to push. In most cases, the
medicine can be decreased or stopped if it makes it hard to push.
You probably won't be able to walk while you have an epidural. That's because it decreases feeling and strength in the lower body.
For some women, the medicine may slow down labour. For others, it has no effect on the length
of labour. In some cases, it may make labour go faster.
It often takes about 10
minutes for the pain medicine to start to work. It may take 20 to 30 minutes to
get the full effect.
The medicine is not likely to affect your baby.
An epidural also can be used to
block pain during a caesarean section (C-section). This is the delivery of a baby through a cut (incision) that the doctor makes in the lower belly. The
epidural allows you to be awake for the birth.
A nurse will put a tube, called an IV, in your vein. You will
get fluids through the IV during your labour.
A doctor (called an
anesthesiologist) or nurse anesthetist gives an epidural.
sit with your back curved out. Or you may lie on your side with your knees pulled toward
your belly. The doctor or nurse will ask you to be as still as you can. He or
she will give you a shot of numbing medicine in the skin on your back. Then the doctor
or nurse will put a needle through the numbed skin into your epidural space in
your back. The catheter, a tiny tube about the size of a
pencil lead, is inserted through the needle. You may feel some pressure as the
catheter is placed, but it should not hurt. The doctor or nurse will take out
the needle. But the catheter will stay in your back to supply the medicine. Usually
this procedure is no more painful than getting an IV.
catheter is in place, the doctor or nurse will tape it to your back. You will
feel the tape on your skin, but you should not feel the catheter. You may have
a cold feeling on your skin as the medicine passes through the part of the
catheter that is taped to your back.
Your doctor or nurse probably
will take out the epidural soon after your baby is born.
The numbness and muscle weakness in your legs will probably wear off
within 2 hours after the epidural medicine is stopped. You may find that it is
hard to urinate until all the medicine has worn off. Your back may be sore. You may have a small bruise at the catheter site. This usually gets better in 1
or 2 days. In rare cases, an epidural may cause a headache that gets worse when
you sit or stand. Tell your doctor if you get a headache after your epidural.
Your doctor can treat it.
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
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Current as of:
May 30, 2016
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
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