Epidural vs. Spinal Anesthesia

Category: Procedures | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: July 23, 2014

epidural injectionThere is a lot of confusion surrounding epidural anesthesia and spinal anesthesia. Many people think they are one in the same. The truth is they are similar but not identical. Each has its own unique procedure and benefits. In this post, we will define epidural anesthesia and spinal anesthesia, and talk about the similarities and differences between the two.

Epidural Anesthesia

If you or a close family member has ever had a child, you are likely familiar with epidural anesthesia (colloquially shortened to just “epidural”). An epidural is a form of anesthesia often used during childbirth to ease the mother’s pain. The procedure consists of inserting a needle and catheter into the epidural space (the area between the spine and its outer membrane). Once the catheter is in place, anesthesia is injected to numb the areas above and below the injection point. After the initial injection, the anesthesiologist closely monitors the patient to determine whether more anesthetic needs to be administered. 

Spinal Anesthesia

Spinal anesthesia is similar, but not identical to epidural anesthesia. This type of anesthesia also involves an injection, but using a much smaller needle. The anesthetic is injected into the spinal fluid of the spinal cord. As with epidural anesthesia, the goal is to completely numb the area and block pain.

Spinal anesthesia is faster acting than epidural anesthesia. As such, it is used for short procedures. Epidural anesthesia can take 10-20 minutes to take effect, but also lasts longer, which is why it is used for longer procedures such as childbirth. Both forms of anesthesia have fewer risk factors when compared to general anesthesia (wherein the patient is completely put under). Recovery time is much faster and there aren’t as many associated side effects.

Prior to your procedure, your physician will talk to you about the different forms of anesthesia and determine which will best fit your situation.

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