Medical Q&As

Epidural - side effects?

My wife is expecting a baby in eight weeks and is wondering about the potential side effects of getting an epidural for pain relief. She is concerned that she may later get severe headaches and backaches as she has been told that these sometimes occur. Is there any reason she should be concerned?

As I have said in response to other queries in this Ask the Doctor section there is no such thing as a risk free medical intervention. Epidural anaesthesia does carry certain risks but persistent long-term side effects from the procedure are rare. Headache can occur as a result of epidural anaesthesia but this tends to occur during the labour rather than being a late complication as suggested in your question. Some women also experience back pain following the epidural and this can persist long term in a small minority of women. Some women may experience nausea following administration of the epidural. The labour may also be prolonged and there is a higher incidence of forceps delivery. Such forceps deliveries may be necessary because the mother is unable to push the baby out. In such instances an episiotomy may be necessary. Side effects are not inevitable and most women go through the epidural procedure without difficulty.