Can Epidurals Cause Complications?

Epidurals are a go-to labor pain reliever, but can they lead to other problems? Find out what your chances of a complication look like.
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ByAshley Roman, MD
OB-GYN
Updated
May 2017
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Most women don’t experience any side-effects after getting an epidural.

A headache is probably the most common side effect and can happen if the needle used to place the epidural catheter accidentally punctures the dural membrane of the spine. This puncturing causes the leakage of cerebrospinal fluid and leads to what’s known as a spinal headache. But not to worry—it only happens in 1-2 percent of epidural catheter placements.

While it was initially thought that the epidural is associated with back pain after delivery, more recent data shows no link between the two. And thankfully, nerve damage is a very rare complication that most moms never have to deal with. In other rare cases, if the epidural needle accidently punctures a blood vessel, this can cause bleeding around the spinal cord (which is a spinal or epidural hematoma). In this situation, pressure from the collecting blood can place pressure on the nerves and spinal cord and cause permanent injury to nerves. But again, spinal or epidural hematomas are very rare, and have only been found to occur in 1 out of 200,000 OB patients who receive an epidural.

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