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Epidural risk exaggerated

12th January 2009

Research carried out at the Royal United Hospital in Bath has suggested that the danger of epidurals to women expecting babies and surgery patients may be exaggerated.

childbirth1

The study looked at the 700,000 spinal anaesthetic injections performed annually and discovered that the danger to the patient was one in 23,000. This figure is significantly lower - 10 times lower - than traditional estimates.

Patients are given an injection in the base of their backs where the vertebrae and spinal cord surroundings are located.

They are then given a local anaesthetic to stop them having sensations in their abdomens.

The injections are usually given during childbirth or for surgery.

The Bath study, published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, looked at information from every hospital in the country and saw that between 14 to 30 patients were left with permanent damage.

The team estimated that a woman's danger of permanent problems with an epidural during childbirth was as little as one in 80,000.

Dr Tim Cook, the lead researcher and a consultant anaesthetist at the hospital, said: "The results are reassuring for patients."

Charlie McLaughlan, of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said: "This is good news. We have not had reliable data on the risks before."

"I think patients have probably been under the impression that the risk was greater than it actually was and this could have put them off the procedures."

 

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