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Continuous epidural is a way to give pain medication. The medication is sent into your spinal canal through a soft tube into the space surrounding your spinal cord. Pain signals in part of your body are then blocked. Continuous epidural is used to treat pain after surgery. It is often put into place before surgery and stays in place during recovery. An epidural is used because it may give better pain relief than other ways of giving pain medication.
Pain signals from nerves in the affected part of your body travel up the spinal cord to your brain. An epidural blocks nerve signals from traveling along the spinal cord. This keeps the signals from reaching your brain and keeps you from feeling pain. A thin, flexible tube (called a catheter) is used. It is put through the skin of your back into the part of the spinal canal surrounding the spinal cord called the epidural space. Medication is then sent through the tube. It blocks nerves below the point where the tube is inserted. The medications either reduce pain or block most feeling.
The epidural may be put in before surgery or just after surgery. If you are awake for the insertion, you may be asked to lie on your side and pull your knees up to your stomach. Or you may be asked to sit on the side of your bed and lean over. The skin where the epidural will be placed is cleaned and numbed with a local anesthetic. The tube is placed into your back. A small machine pumps pain medication through the tube. The pump is programmed and adjusted by the anesthesiologist. In some cases, you will be shown how to give yourself medication as needed.
You will likely be able to move around and walk with the epidural in place.
The medication may make you unable to empty your bladder. If this happens, the amount of epidural medication may be adjusted. Or, a tube is placed into your bladder to drain it.
If you have certain symptoms, your medication may be adjusted. Tell your health care provider if you:
Still have pain
Have a headache
Have trouble breathing
Start having itchy skin
Can’t feel or move your legs
Have pain at the epidural insertion site
Feel confused or dizzy
The epidural is left in place for several days. It will be removed before you go home.
Though it is safe, continuous epidural can have complications. These may include:
Sudden drop in blood pressure
Spinal cord damage
Nerve or blood vessel damage
Your doctor or nurse will watch carefully for these complications while the epidural is in place.