Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Epidural anaesthetic

2-minute read

This page will give you information about an epidural anaesthetic. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

You can also download and print a PDF version of this factsheet, with space for your own questions or notes.

What is an epidural anaesthetic?

An epidural anaesthetic (or epidural) involves injecting local anaesthetics and other painkillers into an area called the epidural space, near your spinal cord. This numbs your nerves to give pain relief in certain areas of your body.

An epidural can be used either on its own while you are awake, or together with sedation or a general anaesthetic. An epidural can also be used after an operation or procedure to give effective pain relief.

The epidural can be maintained by giving extra doses or by giving a continuous low dose.

How is an epidural given?

Your anaesthetist will insert an epidural catheter using a needle. They will inject a small amount of anaesthetic through the catheter to check the position.

Once they have completed this check, they will give more of the anaesthetic until the epidural is working properly.

Illustration of different types of epidrual.
Different types of epidural.

The effect of the epidural can be varied by changing the type and amount of medication given.

What complications can happen?

  • failure of the epidural
  • low blood pressure
  • headache
  • respiratory depression
  • itching
  • difficulty passing urine
  • temporary leg weakness
  • backache
  • seizures
  • unexpected high block
  • infection around your spine
  • cardiovascular collapse
  • blood clot around your spine
  • damage to nerves
  • paralysis or death

Summary

An epidural anaesthetic can be used for most people, usually giving a safe and effective form of pain relief both during and after an operation or procedure.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION
The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Last reviewed: September 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Epidural

Labour is painful, so it' important to learn about all the ways that you can relieve the pain. Epidural is a type of local anaesthetic. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Choose one that suits you.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Epidurals - myDr.com.au

Learn about the anaesthetic procedure often used in childbirth, known as an epidural.

Read more on myDr website

Epidurals for pain relief in labour | Cochrane

Pain relief is important for women in labour. Pharmacological methods of pain relief include inhalation of nitrous oxide, injection of opioids and regional analgesia with an epidural for a central nerve block. Epidurals are widely used for pain relief in labour and involve an injection of a local anaesthetic into the lower region of the spine close to the nerves that transmit pain. Epidural solutions are given by bolus injection, continuous infusion or using a patient-controlled pump. Lower concentrations of local anaesthetic are needed when they are given together with an opiate, allowing women to maintain the ability to move around during labour and to bear down. Epidural analgesia may sometimes give inadequate analgesia, which may be due to non-uniform spread of local anaesthetic. Combined spinal-epidural involves a single injection of local anaesthetic or opiate into the cerebral spinal fluid for fast onset of pain relief as well as insertion of the epidural catheter for continuing pain relief. Side effects such as itchiness, drowsiness, shivering and fever have been reported and rare but potentially severe adverse effects of epidural analgesia do occur.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Epidurals and breastfeeding | Australian Breastfeeding Association

How does an epidural work?With an epidural, a small plastic tube is inserted between the bones of your spine, into the space around your spinal cord. A combination of drugs is given through the tube. A local anaesthetic blocks nerves in the spinal cord that transmit pain signals and an opiate provides further pain relief.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

RANZCOG WEBSITE - Pain Relief in Labour and Childbirth

An epidural is a procedure where an anaesthetic (a drug that gives either partial or total loss of sensation) is injected into the small space in your back near your spinal cord by a specialist anaesthetist

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Epidural analgesia (childbirth pain relief) information | myVMC

Epidural analgesia or epidural injection is a form of labour pain management. Pain relief medications are injected into the spine.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Epidurals | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Your childs surgeon or anaesthetist may suggest that your child needs an epidural for control of pain after an operation

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Epidurals for childbirth

An epidural can be used to relieve pain during child birth and is very safe. Your anaesthetist will discuss pain relief options with you as part of your antenatal care.

Read more on WA Health website

Spinal Anaesthesia | myVMC

For information on spinal anaesthesia or epidural anaesthesia.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Image Guided Lumbar Epidural Corticosteroid Injection - InsideRadiology

InsideRadiology

Read more on InsideRadiology website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo