Epidural Injury

Fact-Checked and Medically Reviewed by:
Katie Lavender, RN Registered Nurse
Quick Answer

Mistakes made with an epidural during childbirth can turn this common pain relief method into a long-term problem for mothers and babies. An epidural injury can be caused by poor preparation, inexperienced staff, and inadequate aftercare. Serious complications like birth injuries and permanent nerve damage may occur. Find out what steps you can take if you or your baby have been harmed.

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What is an Epidural During Childbirth?

A pregnant woman lies on a hospital bed with a fetal monitoring belt wrapped around her belly.An epidural is a type of anesthesia commonly used during childbirth to relieve pain. It involves injecting medication into the area around the spinal nerves in the lower back (the epidural space.)

This blocks pain in the lower body, allowing for a more comfortable labor experience while the mother remains fully conscious.

About 70-75% of women who give birth choose an epidural, making it the most common type of anesthetic for pain relief during labor, according to Yale Medicine. Epidurals are used in both vaginal and cesarean (C-section) deliveries.

The epidural process is straightforward but must be performed carefully. Mistakes made in the delicate region surrounding the spine can be serious. An epidural injury in mothers can include paralysis or, in rare cases, cardiac arrest due to complications from the anesthesia.

If the mother experiences significant hypotension (low blood pressure) due to the epidural, it can lead to decreased blood flow to the fetus, potentially causing fetal distress.

Additionally, epidural anesthesia can sometimes prolong the second stage of labor. This may increase the risk of delivery interventions that could harm the baby, such as complications from forceps or vacuum extractors.

If you or your child suffered from a preventable epidural injury, you may be entitled to financial support from a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Get a free case review right now to find out if you may be eligible.

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A free case review is the first step in pursuing compensation for you and your family.

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Epidural Step-by-Step

The primary purpose of an epidural is to provide pain relief (analgesia) or to completely block sensation (anesthesia) in a specific region of your body.

Commonly referred to as an epidural block, epidural anesthesia, or regional anesthesia, the procedure is widely used during labor and childbirth.

Below are steps in the epidural process, which must be carefully performed to ensure safety and effectiveness.

  1. Before a patient is prepared to receive an epidural, informed consent must be given. Doctors should thoroughly explain the process and its potential risks.
  2. The patient is started on IV fluids. Most patients receive 1-2 liters of fluids throughout the process.
  3. Next, the patient is positioned. They can sit up or lie down on their left side, but the back must be arched. Proper positioning can help increase effectiveness and prevent complications.
  4. The injection site (on the back near the spine) is disinfected, and a local anesthetic is given.
  5. A long needle is inserted, and a very thin tube — called a catheter — is threaded through the needle.
  6. The needle is removed, leaving the catheter behind. The catheter is taped in place so it cannot be dislodged during labor.
  7. The pain relief medication is given through the catheter. Doctors may administer periodic injections or continuously infuse the medication.
  8. Lastly, when labor is over, the medication is stopped, and the catheter is carefully removed. The injection site is bandaged and must be closely monitored for signs of infection and other complications.

Avoiding an epidural injury is strongly tied to the skill of the medical professional administering it.

Causes of Epidural Injury

Epidurals are routine and commonplace procedures. Unfortunately, poor training or a lack of proper care can turn what should be a simple process into a potential tragedy.

Common causes of epidural injury include:
  • Allergic reactions to medication
  • Dosage or medication errors (wrong or expired medication)
  • Failure to monitor or respond to distress in the mother and baby
  • Ignoring risk factors (for example, blood thinners, low platelet count, or signs of infection)
  • Incorrect placement of the needle
  • Premature administration (before dilation reaches 4 cm)

Before an epidural is given, patients should always be thoroughly screened for potential risk factors. Even if no adverse conditions are found, patients should be monitored closely during and after the procedure to prevent complications that may develop.

Epidural Injection Injury and Medical Negligence

Epidurals are performed by anesthesiologists or certified registered nurse anesthetists specially trained in this field.

A correctly performed epidural can help women when the pain of childbirth interferes with the process of delivery. It allows them to rest when labor is prolonged and helps them remain alert and active.

However, medical negligence causing epidural injury can sometimes happen. When an epidural injury happens, it could mean serious, long-term consequences for mothers and babies.

An epidural injury can occur when health care providers do not adhere to the strict standards of care required during the administration of an epidural.

These are situations that could be considered medical negligence:
  • Failure to recognize risk factors: Certain pre-existing conditions in mothers can significantly increase the risk of epidural injury.
  • Improper needle placement: Incorrect positioning of the needle can cause trauma to nerves or other tissues, potentially leading to long-term epidural nerve injury or paralysis.
  • Inadequate monitoring: Continuous monitoring during and after an epidural is essential to quickly detect and respond to adverse reactions.
  • Incorrect dosage: The precise amount of anesthetic is crucial. Too much can lead to overdosing issues such as severe hypotension or cardiac arrest.

If you suspect medical malpractice could have caused an epidural injury, you may be entitled to financial support. This compensation can help cover medical expenses, ongoing care, and even your pain and suffering.

Get a free case review right now to see if you may be eligible.

Get a Free Case Review

A free case review is the first step in pursuing compensation for you and your family.

Get a Free Case Review

Epidural Side Effects

Epidural side effects, while relatively rare, can pose significant risks during childbirth. An epidural injury can lead to complications like severe pain, epidural nerve injury, or even paralysis.

Learn more about the side effects of epidurals below.

Infant Side Effects and Risks

The dangers from mishandled epidurals don’t only impact the mother. Babies may also suffer from the additional risk of complications.

Epidural-related complications in the infant include:
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Changes in fetal heart rate
  • Greater chance of spending time in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
  • Increased likelihood of requiring antibiotics
  • Low Apgar scores
  • Oxygen deprivation, which can cause conditions like cerebral palsy

Whenever labor becomes prolonged or difficult, the risk of traumatic birth injury is increased. Mistakes made in seconds can leave children facing a lifetime of health consequences.

If your baby was harmed during childbirth by an epidural injury, the Birth Injury Justice Center is here to help.

Call us right now at (800) 914-1562 or Click to Live Chat.

Maternal Side Effects and Risks

Epidurals can change how labor progresses and may lead to complications. Mistakes during the procedure increase these risks, potentially causing serious side effects for mothers.

Epidural side effects and risks to the mother include:
  • Backache/soreness at the injection site
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Difficulty urinating (decreased sensation)
  • Epidural hematoma (buildup of blood)
  • Fluctuation in blood pressure (sudden drop)
  • Infection
  • Nausea
  • Paralysis (temporary or permanent)
  • Nerve damage
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache (caused by spinal fluid leakage)
  • Shivering

When epidurals are poorly managed, women can end up paying the price, sometimes in ways from which they will never fully recover.

Epidural Long-Term Side Effects

While epidurals are generally safe, some people may experience long-term side effects. Understanding these potential side effects can help patients make informed pain management decisions.

These are several potential long-term side effects of epidurals in mothers:
  • Chronic back pain: Some individuals report persistent back pain at the site of the epidural injection.
  • Epidural nerve injury: In rare cases, an epidural injury can mean lasting nerve damage, which might affect mobility or sensation.
  • Headaches: Some may suffer from long-lasting headaches due to a potential dural puncture (a hole in the spinal cord’s protective membrane).
  • Neurological symptoms: Less commonly, patients might experience lingering neurological symptoms like tingling or weakness.

If you suffered severe long-term side effects from an epidural injury, medical malpractice may have played a role.

The Birth Injury Justice Center has registered nurses on staff. They are here to listen to your story and help you understand whether something may have gone wrong with your epidural.

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Signs of Nerve Damage From Epidurals

Recognizing the signs of nerve damage after an epidural is critical for timely intervention and preventing further complications. Symptoms can vary widely depending on the severity and location of the damage.

These could be signs of nerve damage from an epidural:
  • Difficulty controlling bowel or bladder functions
  • Numbness or a lack of sensation in the legs
  • Persistent pain in the lower back or limbs
  • Tingling sensations, often described as pins and needles
  • Weakness affecting mobility or muscle control

If you experience any of these symptoms, it could mean you have an epidural injection injury. Consult with a health care professional immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to manage symptoms effectively and minimize the impact on your health.

Did you know

Treatment for nerve damage from epidurals may involve specific therapeutic approaches like medication, physical therapy, or other modalities.

Treatment for Epidural Injuries

Epidural injury treatment is based on the severity and type of damage. Prompt and effective treatment can help ease long-term consequences.

These are several epidural injury treatment options:
  • Counseling and support: Psychological support or counseling can be beneficial, especially if the injury has a significant impact on quality of life.
  • Medication for pain relief: Over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers can help manage pain associated with epidural injuries.
  • Physical therapy: For injuries affecting mobility or causing physical discomfort, physical therapy can aid in recovery.
  • Surgical interventions: In severe cases, such as those involving significant epidural nerve injury, surgical interventions may be necessary.

If you suspect you have suffered an epidural injury, seek medical advice promptly. A health care provider can offer a comprehensive evaluation and tailor a treatment plan suited to your specific needs, ensuring the best possible outcome.

Preventing an Epidural Injury

To reduce the risk of an epidural injury, it’s crucial to be proactive in understanding and managing the procedure’s details and potential risks.

Learn more about steps you can take to prevent an epidural injury below.

5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Epidurals

Discussing the epidural process with your health care provider is essential for making an informed decision about pain management during labor.

Here are 5 questions you can ask your doctor:
  1. How often do you perform epidurals?
  2. What are the specific risks associated with epidurals in my case?
  3. Can you walk me through how the procedure is done?
  4. What symptoms should prompt me to contact you after the epidural?
  5. How do you handle complications if they arise during the procedure?

These questions can help you gauge the expertise of your health care provider and understand what to expect, ensuring you are prepared for the procedure.

Alternatives to Epidurals

Exploring alternatives to epidurals can provide different options for managing pain during labor, each with its own benefits and considerations.

Here are several alternatives to epidurals:
  • Nitrous oxide: Offers pain relief that can be controlled by the patient
  • Non-medical methods: Techniques like breathing exercises, hydrotherapy, and acupressure
  • Pudendal block: Targets the nerves in the pelvic area, used during the later stages of labor
  • Spinal blocks: An injection in the spinal area (without a catheter) that typically wears off quicker

Understanding these alternatives allows you to choose a pain management strategy that aligns with your preferences and medical needs.

Creating a Birth Plan

Creating a birth plan involves outlining your preferences for pain management during labor. It’s important to document these preferences clearly to align you and your delivery team with your wishes.

Once you’ve created your plan, discuss it with your entire care team. This ensures that everyone involved in your delivery is aware of your preferences and prepared to follow them.

Keep in mind that childbirth can be unpredictable. If complications arise, preparing for possible changes to your birth plan is wise. Flexibility can help you manage any unexpected situations more effectively.

Get Legal Help for an Epidural Injury

Epidurals are a popular choice for pain relief during labor, and they’re often treated as simple or routine. However, no application of anesthesia comes without risk, particularly in something as complex as childbirth.

Mistakes made during an epidural can have serious, long-term consequences for mothers and babies. If you or your child were harmed, consider seeking legal help.

The Birth Injury Justice Center partners with top medical malpractice law firms nationwide. We can help families in all 50 states, including individuals who suffered from an epidural injury.

Call us right now at (800) 914-1562 or fill out this form to find out if we can connect you with a skilled personal injury lawyer near you.

Epidural Injury FAQs

Can epidurals increase the risk of birth injuries?

Yes, epidurals can increase the risk of traumatic birth injuries. Women who undergo epidurals may experience prolonged labor, and babies may experience fetal malpositioning — both of which make delivery more difficult.

These issues increase the likelihood that doctors will need to use instruments like forceps or vacuums during delivery, which have the potential to cause serious birth injuries.

If your child was harmed due to an epidural injury, the Birth Injury Justice Center may be able to help. Call us right now at (800) 914-1562 to find out if we can connect you with a top birth injury lawyer near you.

What are the symptoms of epidural damage?

Symptoms of epidural injury can include severe back pain, headaches, difficulty urinating, numbness or weakness in the legs, and in rare cases, paralysis. If you experience these symptoms after an epidural, seek immediate medical attention.

What happens if an epidural is injected wrong?

If an epidural is injected incorrectly, it can lead to several complications. These may include severe pain at the injection site, headaches from a dural puncture (hole in the spinal cord’s protective membrane), epidural nerve injury resulting in weakness or numbness, and, in rare cases, paralysis.

Improper epidural injection may also result in ineffective pain relief during labor. Immediate medical attention is necessary to address these complications and prevent long-term effects.

What happens if they hit a nerve during an epidural?

If a nerve is accidentally hit during an epidural, it can cause immediate, sharp pain or a sensation like an electric shock in the legs or lower back.

This might lead to temporary or, in rare cases, permanent epidural nerve injury characterized by chronic pain, numbness, or weakness in the affected areas.

Are epidural injuries treatable?

An epidural injury varies widely in type and level of severity. Many types of epidural injuries are treatable if doctors move quickly to intervene.

Infections, spinal fluid leakages, blood pressure fluctuations, and neurologic defects leading to temporary paralysis can often be treated, and many people fully recover.

That said, some women and children face severe complications from which they will never recover. Babies can develop lifelong conditions like cerebral palsy, and 1 in every 240,000 women will face persistent neurologic injuries that can cause paralysis or otherwise inhibit their freedom of movement forever.

Can epidural injuries be prevented?

Yes, in most cases, an epidural injury is preventable. Medical mistakes made during the procedure and poor monitoring afterward account for most causes of epidural injuries. More thorough training and ensuring that the proper staff is available to deal with emergencies can help eliminate mistakes.

Medical providers have a duty to their patients to provide appropriate and timely medical intervention. This duty is not waived during emergencies, and when delivery teams fail to deliver on this promise and cause harm during childbirth, it may be considered birth injury malpractice.

Can you sue for epidural damage?

You may be able to sue if the epidural injury resulted from medical negligence. This involves proving that the health care provider deviated from the standard of care typically expected in similar situations, directly causing injury.

If you or your child suffered from a severe epidural injury, you may have legal options.

Get a free case review right now.

Birth Injury Support Team
Reviewed by:Katie Lavender, RN

Registered Nurse

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Katie Lavender has over 8 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in postpartum mother/baby care. With hands-on experience in Labor and Delivery and a role as a Community Educator for newborn care, Katie is a staunch advocate for patient rights and education. As a Medical Reviewer, she is committed to ensuring accurate and trustworthy patient information.

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
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  3. Cleveland Clinic. (2021, November 10). Epidural hematoma. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22034-epidural-hematoma
  4. Pozza, D. H., et al. (2023, March). Spinal cord injury and complications related to neuraxial anaesthesia procedures: A systematic review. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 24(5), 4665. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms24054665
  5. Salameh, K. M., et al (2020, February 4). Effects of Labor Epidural Analgesia on Short Term Neonatal Morbidity. International journal of women’s health, 12, 59–70. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.2147/IJWH.S228738
  6. Yale Medicine. (2023, March 16). Epidurals during childbirth: What women should know. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/epidural-anesthesia#:~:text=I%20will%20answer%20her%20questions,for%20pain%20relief%20during%20labor
  7. Zheng, H. X., et al. (2020, February 10). Spontaneous spinal epidural hematoma after normal spontaneous delivery with epidural analgesia: Case report and literature review. World Neurosurgery, 137, 214–217. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wneu.2020.01.240