Epidural anaesthesia is a very commonly used form of regional anaesthetic which involves blocking the nerves that supply the area where the surgeon will be operating. This reduces the number of anaesthetic drugs required which in turn reduces the side effects - feeling sick for example. With an epidural anaesthetic the nerves to your legs and abdomen are blocked.
Having an epidural means that during and after your operation your anaesthetist can provide you with a continuous form of pain relief using a mixture of drugs through a small plastic tube, the end of which lies near the nerves that supply the sensation to your abdomen and legs. The epidural is therefore most useful for major operations that may be expected to cause discomfort for several days.
Having an epidural inserted can take about half an hour and is only mildly uncomfortable. The anaesthetist will ask you to lie on your side or sit up on the edge of the bed (see illustration's right). They will put some local anaesthetic in the skin to make the procedure less painful. The tubing will then be secured to your back with a dressing. Sometimes the epidural will be put in whilst you are asleep. After the operation the local anaesthetic mixture will then be administered by a pump which is attached to the tubing on your back. The epidural may cause numbness and heaviness in your legs - this is often normal, but let the nurse looking after you know.
The risks of having an epidural include:
- Less than 100 percent pain relief
- The anaesthetist may not be able to place the epidural
- Nerve damage
- Leg heaviness/numbness
- Back pain
- Difficulty passing urine
There are some medical reasons why your anaesthetist may not be able to perform this anaesthetic, but this will be discussed with you.