Waking Up to Possible Side Effects of Epidurals and Other Types of Regional Anesthesia

Prenatal Care and Childbirth

Possible Side Effects of Epidurals

Giving birth to your baby is one of the most beautiful experiences you’ll have in your lifetime. Of course, it might be hard to remember that while you’re going through the delivery. But unlike previous generations, we’re fortunate to have the option of an epidural — the pain-numbing anesthetic that helps make childbirth much more bearable. One study showed that 71% of pregnant women opted for this type of anesthesia during their delivery.

However, although epidurals are generally considered a safe practice, they carry the risk of side effects just like any other medical procedure. We’ve rounded up both the common and the rare side effects associated with epidurals and other types of regional anesthesia so that you can be prepared to decide which may be best for you.

Side Effects of an Epidural

An epidural, also known as an epidural block, is the most commonly used form of pain relief during childbirth for women in the United States. The combined analgesic and anesthetic pain relievers are injected into your back and block pain signals before they reach your brain, so that you don’t feel the normal pain of labor. Once the injection is administered, you’ll have some temporary loss of feeling below the waist, but you’ll be awake and alert enough to push once the baby is on its way.

Although epidurals make childbirth much less painful than a natural delivery, they’re not completely risk free. Some of the most common side effects they cause include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Itching
  • Headache
  • Temporary difficulty urinating
  • Nausea

In addition, there are some more serious side effects associated with an epidural, and while they’re considered to be very rare, it’s important to consider the worst-case scenarios so that you can decide what’s best for you and your baby. Those serious but rare side effects include:

  • Breathing problems. In rare cases, opioids, especially when administered to the spine, can cause slow breathing or unexpected breathing difficulties, which may arise hours after birth and may progress to have serious effects.
  • Infection. Any time the skin is opened for an injection or surgery, there is a risk of infection in or around the puncture site. Should you experience an infection of the skin near the epidural tube, antibiotics — or emergency surgery in extreme cases — will ensure that the infection doesn’t spread.
  • Nerve damage. In very rare cases, the epidural needle can hit a nerve, resulting in temporary or permanent loss of feeling in your lower body. The most common symptom is a numbness in a small area of the back that still maintains normal movement and strength. Generally, the numbness disappears within a few days or weeks, sometimes taking up to several months. However, in extremely rare cases, the nerve damage is permanent.
  • Seizure. In the very unlikely case that the pain medication seeps into your vein, an epidural can trigger a seizure.

Side Effects of Other Regional Anesthesia

Regional anesthesia (also known as nerve blocks) is used to numb a part of your body before, during or after surgical procedures, from orthopedic to oral surgery. It can significantly reduce your pain and discomfort, and it often includes a faster recovery time than general anesthesia. However, as with any other medical or surgical treatment, it has the potential to result in side effects, including:

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Itching
  • Headache
  • Allergic reaction to the local anesthetic

The specific risks of epidurals and local anesthesia vary depending on the procedure and patient. As a result, you should always ask your doctor or anesthesiologist about any associated risks before opting for a particular anesthesia. They will be able to carefully evaluate your condition and take all precautions to ensure the best decision for your health. In the unlikely case that you experience a side effect, your physician will respond with immediate treatment while continuing to monitor you closely.


If you’re concerned about the prenatal medical care you received from your OBGYN or other practitioner, we’re here to answer all your legal questions. The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs have been helping families across the United States with their birth injury claims for 40 years. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about your rights and legal options.

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