Are there any risks to having an epidural?

Receiving an epidural is very safe; however there are side effects for all medications. In certain cases, side effects, though short-lived, may include a drop in blood pressure or itching. Rarer side effects include a spinal headache (a severe headache that may require further treatment) and an extremely small chance of infection or nerve damage. Though usually very effective, an epidural can fail to provide enough pain relief. If this happens, your anesthesiologist may replace the epidural or can make adjustments to ensure that you are comfortable while giving birth.

An epidural is the most common form of pain relief for labor pain. Of the 4 million births that take place in the U.S. each year, approximately 80 percent of moms receive epidurals during their labor and delivery process.

Some epidurals used are “patient-controlled”, meaning you as the patient can safely adjust the amount of medication used. This allows you to control the experience and tailor the delivery of the medication to a level you find comfortable.

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Sarah Elizabeth Little, MD, MPH, is a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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