Epidural anaesthesia - Side effects 

Side effects of an epidural 

The Yellow Card Scheme

The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report suspected side effects from any type of medicine you are taking. It is run by medicines safety watchdog the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

There are several potential side effects that can occur after having epidural anaesthesia.

Low blood pressure

Low blood pressure (hypotension) is the most common side effect associated with having an epidural. This is because the local anaesthetic used affects the nerves that go to your blood vessels, leading to a fall in blood pressure. This may cause lightheadedness or nausea.

Your blood pressure will be closely monitored while you are having an epidural. If necessary, medication can be passed through a drip to treat low blood pressure.

Pain and discomfort

You may experience some slight discomfort when local anaesthetic is injected to numb the skin during epidural insertion. However, you should not feel pain when drugs are injected into the epidural space.

Sometimes, it is also possible for an epidural to be unsuccessful. For example, this might occur if:

  • it proves difficult to find the epidural space 
  • the local anaesthetic does not spread evenly around the epidural space
  • the catheter falls out

If your epidural fails to work, your anaesthetist will see you and attempt to improve the numbness. If the epidural cannot be improved, they will offer alternative pain relief, which may include performing the procedure again.

Loss of bladder control

After having an epidural, you will not be able to feel when your bladder is full. This is because the epidural affects the nerves around your bladder.

A catheter will be inserted into your bladder to allow urine to drain away. Your bladder control will return to normal as soon as the epidural wears off.

Itchy skin

Sometimes, the painkillers that are combined with local anaesthetic during an epidural can cause itchiness. If you develop itchy skin it can usually be treated.

Sickness

You may feel sick (or actually be sick) after having an epidural. However, you are more likely to experience this side effect with a general anaesthetic. If your blood pressure is normal, anti-sickness medicines will usually help.

Backache

A study carried out in 2010 found no increased risk associated with the use of epidural anaesthesia and long-term backache.

Your epidural care team will try to ensure you are comfortable during and after the procedure, but being in the same position for a prolonged period may inevitably make existing backache worse.

If you experience severe backache in the weeks following an epidural, you should report your symptoms to your care team as soon as possible so they can investigate the problem.

Page last reviewed: 21/02/2013

Next review due: 21/02/2015

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