Epidural and spinal anesthesia

Epidural and spinal blocks are types of anesthesia in which a local anesthetic is injected near the spinal cord and nerve roots to block sensations of pain from an entire region of the body, such as the abdomen, the hips, the legs, or the pelvis during childbirth. Epidural and spinal anesthesia are used primarily for surgery of the lower abdomen and the legs. Epidural anesthesia is frequently used in childbirth.

Epidural anesthesia involves the insertion of a hollow needle and flexible catheter into the space between the spinal column and outer membrane of the spinal cord (epidural space) in the mid- or lower back. The area where the needle will be inserted is numbed with a local anesthetic. Then the needle is inserted and removed after the catheter has passed through it and remains in place. The anesthetic medication is injected into the catheter to numb the body above and below the point of injection as needed. The catheter is secured on the back so it can be used again if more medication is needed.

Spinal anesthesia is done in a similar way, except the anesthetic medication is injected using a much smaller needle, directly into the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the spinal cord, without the use of a catheter. Spinal anesthesia numbs the body below the site of the injection or above it as well, depending on the anesthetic dose and the technique used to give it. A spinal catheter may be inserted and left in place for continuous spinal anesthesia.

Epidural and spinal anesthesia are usually combined with other medications that make you relaxed or sleepy (sedatives) or relieve pain (analgesics). These other medications are often given through a vein (intravenously, IV) or may be injected into the epidural space along with the local anesthetic.

You are monitored carefully when receiving epidural or spinal anesthesia because the anesthetics can affect the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. Both spinal and epidural anesthesia may significantly affect breathing, heartbeat, and other vital functions.

Last Updated: January 28, 2010

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.