Many expectant mothers do not go into labor planning on having an epidural, however more than fifty percent do eventually opt to have one. When administered properly, epidural injections are meant to reduce the pain a mother experiences during childbirth. Some women have said that they are more alert during the labor after they have received one, which allows them to experience the birth of their child without being distracted by crippling pain. However, there are some cases where anesthesia errors can be made, so it is important for an expecting mother to understand the risks that are involved prior to having an epidural. When a mistake is made when administering an epidural, it can be very serious given its proximity to the spinal cord.
What is an epidural?
An epidural is a local anesthetic that numbs the nerve impulses of the lower spine. It is given to mother in order to relieve the pain of childbirth. There are two types of epidural:
- Regular epidural: This type of epidural requires the mother to arch her back and be injected in the lower back near the spinal cord. The injection will usually contain morphine and an anesthetic.
- Combined spinal-epidural: This is also known as a ‘walking epidural.’ It involves an injection of a starting dose of anesthetic and narcotic beneath the membrane of the spinal cord. If a starting dose of this type of epidural is not sufficient, a regular epidural can be administered.
What can go wrong?
Epidurals are a positive experience for some women. However, for others the epidural can be a source of stress. It is extremely important that an anesthetist and the staff helping with the delivery monitor the epidural closely to avoid errors. Failure to monitor can lead to rapid and dangerous drops in blood pressure. Epidurals can also lead to:
- Difficulty urinating
- Fever (epidural related fevers can cause poor muscle tone in babies, respiratory problems, seizures, and low scores on tests that measure the general health of newborns).
- Improper fetal positioning
- Permanent damage to the mother
- Respiratory problems in the infant
- Severe headaches
- Variability in the heart rate of the fetus
Types of errors
Mistakes that occur when administering epidurals include:
- Inappropriately administering the epidural
- Too many injections
- Injecting into the wrong area
- Injecting directly into the spinal cord
If you or a loved one has suffered injury due an epidural being negligently administered, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.
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