Epidurals less of a risk than previously thought

Risk of epidurals and spinal anaesthetics lower than predicted

The risk that epidurals and spinal anaesthetics have to women in labour, or patients undergoing surgery, may be less than previously thought, according to a new study.

The news comes after a study by researchers at Bath’s Royal United Hospital analysed the complications that occurred from 700,000 patients who receive the injection every year.

Experts discovered that just one in 23,000 were at risk of harm10 times lower than estimations have indicated.

Both types of injection – whether for labour pain or surgery – are given into the small of the back but the difference between the two is that the spinal anaesthetic goes deeper and is consequently more effective at pain relief.

From all the data the Bath experts received from hospitals throughout the UK, only between 14 and 30 patients were permanently harmed.

The British Journal of Anaesthesia
reports that of those injured, between five and 13 were paralysed and three to six died.

Most of the complications that arose during procedures were deemed unavoidable – ie. it was the patient’s reaction to the procedure rather than the way the injection was administered.

Researchers highlighted the fact that women expecting babies should not be worried as their risk of permanent harm was as low as one in 80,000.

Lead researcher, Dr Tim Cook and a consultant anaesthetist at the hospital, said: ‘The results are reassuring for patients.’

But he emphasised that doctors must not become complacent in administering these complicated procedures.

Charlie McLaughlan, of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said: ‘This is good news. We have not had reliable data on the risks before.

‘I think patients have probably been under the impression that the risk was greater than it actually was and this could have put them off the procedures.’

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