What is Epidural Anesthesia and what is it for

Epidural anesthesia, or epidural, is a type of anesthesia that blocks the pain and sensations of only one region of the body, usually from the waist down. It is done in such a way that the person can stay awake during the surgery, as it does not affect the level of consciousness, and is usually used during simple surgical procedures, such as during normal birth or in small surgeries, such as gynecological or aesthetic, for example .

To perform the epidural, the anesthetic drug is applied to the vertebral space to reach the nerves of the region, having a temporary action, controlled by the doctor. It is done in any hospital with a surgical center, by the anesthetist, and its price is between 400 and 1000 reais, which varies considerably depending on the doctor and the hospital where it is performed.

Epidural anesthesia is similar to spinal anesthesia, however, while in epidural anesthesia the anesthetic medicine is administered in the space around the spinal canal, in greater quantity and through a catheter that is in the back, spinal anesthesia is applied inside the spinal column. , at once and in less quantity. In addition, when deeper anesthesia is required, general anesthesia is indicated. Find out  how general anesthesia works and its risks .

How it is done

Epidural anesthesia is generally used in minor surgeries, being very common during normal birth, as it avoids pain during labor and does not harm the baby.

During anesthesia, the patient remains seated and leaning forward or lying on his side, with his knees and chin tucked. Then, the anesthetist opens the spaces between the vertebrae of the spine by hand, applies a local anesthetic to reduce discomfort and inserts the needle and a thin plastic tube, called a catheter, that passes through the center of the needle.

With the catheter inserted, the doctor injects the anesthetic medicine through the tube and, although it does not hurt, it is possible to feel a slight and gentle prick when the needle is placed, followed by pressure and a feeling of warmth when the medicine is applied. The doctor will be able to control the amount and the duration, being that, sometimes, it is possible to combine the epidural with the spinal to obtain a faster effect.

Possible risks

The risks of epidural anesthesia are very rare, however, chills, fever, infection and nerve damage may occur near the site. In addition, it is also common to experience headaches after waking up from surgery due to anesthesia. Find out what are the main precautions you should take before and after surgery to avoid the risks and recover faster .

Differences between epidural and spinal 

Epidural anesthesia is different from spinal anesthesia, because they are applied in different regions: 

  • Epidural: the needle does not pierce all the meninges and the anesthetic is placed outside the space where the spinal fluid is, and it only serves to eliminate the pain;
  • Spinal: the needle pierces all the meninges and the anesthetic is placed in the liquid that surrounds the spine, and it serves to make the region numb and paralyzed. 

The epidural is usually used in childbirth, because it allows multiple doses to be used throughout the day, while the spinal is more used to perform surgeries, being used only one dose of the anesthetic medication. 

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