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How Common is Pain After Epidural?

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  • Written By: Stacy C.
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Pain after epidural is not an uncommon experience. Unfortunately, receiving an epidural does not guarantee pain-free labor. About 5% of epidurals fail completely, offering the recipient no pain relief at all. An additional 15% of patients feel relief in some areas but not others, commonly called a patchy blockade. Other forms of pain can occur for days or even weeks after the procedure.

When an epidural fails entirely, reasons can include patient obesity; cervical dilation of more than 7 cm when the epidural was attempted; previous epidural rejections; or a patient with a history of opiate abuse. Even if the epidural works, some side effects can result in moderate pain after the procedure. Headache pain after epidural, for example, occurs in 3-5% of patients, often due to poor needle placement that causes cerebrospinal fluid to leak. Sometimes this is solved with an epidural blood patch, which is when the patient's own blood is injected into the epidural space to seal up the cerebrospinal fluid leak. Headaches that continue for more than four days may require this procedure. Younger women are particularly susceptible to epidural headaches.

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There can be long-term issues associated with epidurals as well. Other pain after epidural may include back soreness or the feeling of bruising, even if a bruise is not actually present. This usually occurs at the site of catheter insertion, which is usually done in the epidural space of the spine. Although there is a belief that an epidural can cause back pain for life, studies have not proven any correlation between the procedure and chronic backache. Many women have reported back pain at the catheter insertion site years after having a baby, however.

Some body aches can occur simply because of the stress and strain of labor. Since the epidural usually numbs the body from the waist down, the legs and lower torso can be stretched into uncomfortable positions. The stress of these positions may be felt after the effects of the epidural wear off. Simple stretching and walking may help to alleviate some of these pains.

As a result of the narcotics involved, nausea can occur in up to 30% of women after an epidural procedure, and up to 7% experience vomiting. Other drugs can be given to counteract the nausea, but the effect will also wear off as the epidural wears off. A feeling of itchiness in the face, also because of the narcotics, is normal as well.

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