An epidural (epidural catheter) is a tiny tube that puts pain medicine into an area in your back around your spinal cord. This is called the epidural space.
An epidural is often used during childbirth. But it may also be used during and after certain types of surgery. These include hip, knee, and gynecologic surgery.
During surgery, an epidural will numb you so that you don't feel pain. After surgery, medicine given through an epidural usually controls pain better than medicine by mouth or a vein.
You may have one or two types of pain medicines given through an epidural.
Analgesics relieve pain by decreasing pain signals from your surgery site to your brain. They do not affect your muscles or how well you can move. Fentanyl and morphine are common ones.
Anesthetics numb or dull feeling in a specific part of your body. They do affect your muscles and how well you can move. They also lower your blood pressure. Lidocaine and bupivacaine are common ones.
You may have an epidural for several hours or several days. You can get medicines through your catheter for as long as you need. Afterward, you may take pain medicine by mouth.
You are monitored closely when you get epidural anesthesia. That's because the anesthetics can affect the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system. Epidural anesthesia may affect blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, and other vital functions.
Current as of: February 16, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
John M. Freedman MD - Anesthesiology