Navigate Up

Men's Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Spinal and epidural anesthesia

Spinal and epidural anesthesia are medicines that numb parts of your body to block pain. They are given through shots in or around the spine. You will stay awake during both of these types of anesthesia.

The area of your back where the needle is inserted is cleaned with a special solution. Most of the time this shot goes in your lower back. This area may also be numbed with a local anesthetic. You may receive fluids through an intravenous line (IV) in a vein. You may also get medicine to help you relax.

The doctor who gives you epidural or spinal anesthesia is called an anesthesiologist.

For an epidural :

  • The doctor injects medicine just outside of the sac of fluid around your spinal cord. This is called the epidural space.
  • The medicine numbs, or blocks feeling in a certain part of your body so that you cannot feel pain. The medicine begins to take effect in about 10 to 20 minutes. It works well for longer procedures. Women often have epidurals during childbirth.
  • A small tube (catheter) is often left in place. You can receive more medicine through the catheter to help control your pain during or after your procedure.

For a spinal:

  • The doctor injects medicine into the fluid in your spinal cord. This is usually done only once, so you will not need to have a catheter placed.
  • The medicine begins to take effect right away. It works well for shorter and simpler procedures.

Your pulse, blood pressure and oxygen levels in your blood are checked during the procedure. After the procedure you will have a bandage where the needle was inserted.

Alternative Names

Intraspinal anesthesia; Subarachnoid anesthesia; Epidural; Peridural anesthesia

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Spinal and epidural anesthesia have fewer side effects and risks than general anesthesia (asleep and pain-free). Patients usually recover their senses much faster. Sometimes, they have to wait for the anesthetic to wear off so that they can walk.

Spinal anesthesia is often used for genital, urinary tract, or lower body procedures.

Epidural anesthesia is often used during labor and delivery, and surgery in the pelvis and legs.

Epidural and spinal anesthesia are often used when:

  • The procedure or labor is too painful without any pain medicine.
  • The procedure is in the belly, legs, or feet.
  • Your body can remain in a comfortable position during your procedure.
  • You want fewer systemic side effects and a shorter recovery than you would have from general anesthesia.

Risks

Spinal and epidural anesthesia are generally safe. Ask your doctor about these possible complications:

  • Allergic reaction to the anesthesia used
  • Bleeding around the spinal column (hematoma)
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Infection in your spine (meningitis or abscess )
  • Nerve damage
  • Seizures (this is rare)
  • Severe headache

Before the Procedure

Tell your doctor or nurse:

  • If you are or could be pregnant
  • What medicines you are taking, including medicines, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription

During the days before the procedure:

  • Tell your doctor about any allergies or health conditions you have, what medicines you are taking, and what anesthesia or sedation you have had before.
  • If your procedure is planned, you may be asked to stop taking taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), warfarin (Coumadin), and any other medicines that make it hard for your blood to clot.
  • Ask your doctor which medicines you should still take on the day of your procedure.
  • Arrange for a responsible adult to drive you to and from the hospital or clinic.
  • If you smoke, try to stop. Ask your doctor or nurse for help quitting.

On the day of the procedure:

  • You may be told not to drink or eat anything after midnight the night before the surgery.
  • Do not drink alcohol the night before and the day of your procedure.
  • Take the medicines your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
  • Your doctor or nurse will tell you what time to arrive at the hospital. Be sure to arrive on time

After the Procedure

After an epidural, the catheter in your back is removed. You lie in bed until you have feeling in your legs and can walk. You may feel sick to your stomach and be dizzy. You may be tired.

After spinal anesthesia, you lie flat in bed for a few hours to keep from getting a headache. You may feel sick to your stomach and be dizzy. You may be tired.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most patients feel no pain during spinal and epidural anesthesia and recover fully.

References

Miller RD, Eriksson LI, Fleisher LA, et al. Miller's Anesthesia. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2009.

Sherwood ER, Williams CG, Prough DS. Anesthesiology principles, pain management, and conscious sedation. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 16.

Updated: 5/7/2013

Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Chief of Urology, Cambridge Health Alliance, Visiting Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com