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.
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
- respiratory depression
- difficulty passing urine
- temporary leg weakness
- unexpected high block
- infection around your spine
- cardiovascular collapse
- blood clot around your spine
- damage to nerves
- paralysis or death
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.
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Last reviewed: September 2018