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Warning on epidurals

2nd April 2007

Patients who have epidurals risk long term damage to their health, says a new report.

Doctors are so concerned about the side effects of the spinal anaesthetic that they have called for a national database to be set up to log complications as they arise.  Problems such as meningitis, abscesses and paralysis have been reported in a six-year study into complications caused by epidurals. Researchers found that 12 of the 8,100 patients studied developed major complications from having an epidural – six acquired abscesses, three contracted meningitis and three were found to have blood clots.  In one case the patient’s complications did not come to light whilst he was in hospital and when he returned a month later he was paralysed. Despite all 12 epidurals being administered using techniques to minimise infection, MRSA was present in 5 cases.

Epidurals, or spinal pain relief injections, are administered in their thousands every year and at least 100,000 women annually have the anaesthetic to assist with childbirth.  The drug is administered via a needle inserted into the spine after which a tiny catheter is passed into the epidural space in the back, through which relatively large amounts of local anaesthetic can be injected to numb the area and reduce pain. Epidurals can only be given by anaesthetists who can then use the catheter to top up the patients pain relief.

Researcher Dr Iain Christie said, “Although relatively rare, these complications are serious and point to the need for regular surveys to be carried out after epidural pain relief to identify risk factors and the scale of the problem.?

 

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