Frequently Asked Questions

For Patients Having A Baby

What are my choices for pain relief during labor?
What are my choices for anesthesia for a Cesarean section (C-section)?
What is an epidural?
What are the side effects of an epidural?
What are the risks of an epidural?
If I have back problems can I still have an epidural?
What is a spinal?
How do I contact an anesthesiologist?


Answers

What are my choices for pain relief during labor?
There are generally 3 choices for pain relief during labor. Some women prefer to have no pain medications at all during labor, relying on natural childbirth methods including breathing exercises. For most women though this will not be adequate and some sort of pain relief will be requested. A second choice is to give pain medications in the IV drip. If you are interested in receiving IV pain medicine you should discuss this with your obstetrician or nurse midwife. The third and most common choice these days is an epidural block. (See explanation below). The epidural is performed by an anesthesiologist.

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What are my choices for anesthesia for a Cesarean section (C-section)?
About of all babies in this country are delivered by C-section. This is an operation where an incision is made in the abdomen and the baby is removed through it. It is considered safer for the mother, and consequently for the baby, to have either an epidural or spinal block for your C-section. There are certain conditions, such as emergencies, where general anesthesia (being put to sleep) is necessary. In addition to being safer it is more often the mother's preference to be awake when her baby is born and to have someone with her in the operating room, such as her husband, which is not possible with general anesthesia.

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What is an epidural?
An epidural block is a procedure where medication is placed in the back to numb the lower part of the body. The lower or lumbar area is cleansed with an antiseptic solution first and the skin is numbed with an injection of a medication using a very small needle. Then the epidural needle is placed between the back bones into an area called the epidural space. A small tube or catheter is left in this area and the needle is removed. Medication can be injected into this catheter similar to injecting medication into an IV and your lower body will get somewhat or completely numb, depending on whether you are having labor or a C-section. There is some discomfort from the procedure, mainly from the numbing medicine, but most patients say it is similar to the pain from the IV.

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What are the side effects of an epidural?
It is not uncommon to see various side effects from epidurals such as backache, lowered blood pressure, shivering, nausea and/or vomiting, weakness or numbness. These usually resolve soon after the baby is born and the epidural is removed.

What are the risks of an epidural?
Epidurals are used for about 80% to 90% of all births in this country, both vaginal and C-sections. They are considered very safe procedures but like all medical procedures, epidurals do carry some risk of complications. Some of the problems commonly seen are: difficulty placing the tube into the epidural space and inadequate or uneven pain relief. It is less common to see infections, bleeding, drug reactions, headache from leakage of spinal fluid, seizures from the medication being injected into a blood vessel, nerve injuries, permanent weakness or numbness, paralysis, or cardiac arrest.

If I have back problems can I still have an epidural?
It depends on the back problem. The most common problems are bulging or herniated discs, sciatica, scoliosis, and chronic low back pain. It is usually OK to try an epidural with these conditions. In some cases such as scoliosis the epidural might be more difficult to place and might not work evenly. Since stress may be placed on your back during childbirth it is common for your back pain to be worse afterwards whether or not you have an epidural. In fact epidurals are used to inject medications into the back to treat various back problems in both men and women.

There are some problems that may make your risk from epidurals too great. Some of these are: previous low back surgery, spina bifida, infections in the low back area, or bleeding disorders such as von Willebrand's disease or hemophilia. If you wish to speak to an anesthesiologist before you are scheduled to deliver call the surgery scheduling secretary and schedule an appointment to consult with an anesthesiologist (770-736-2530).

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What is a spinal?
A spinal block is very similar to an epidural block. It is sometimes used as anesthesia for C-sections and, like an epidural, medication is injected into the back. The medicine is injected into the spinal fluid instead of the epidural space and generally no tube is left in the back. The procedure is described in more detail in the section under "For Patients having anesthesia for surgery". The side effects and risks are the same as those from an epidural.

How do I contact an anesthesiologist?
For non-emergency medical questions: 770-736-6308

To schedule an appointment with an anesthesiologist at the hospital: 770-736-2530

To schedule an appointment with an anesthesiologist at the Gwinnett Center for Outpatient Surgery: 770-979-8200

For billing or insurance questions: 770-904-6477


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