Epidural and spinal anesthesia are two types of anesthesia characterized by a local administration of an anesthetic near the spinal cord and the nerve roots. It inhibits the transmission of pain from an entire body regionsuch as the hips, legs, pelvis or the belly.

Both epidural and spinal anesthetic are used mainly for surgery of the lower abdomen and the legs. It can also be used in the control of pain after a major operation has been done to the chest or the belly.

During an epidural anesthesia, a small, hollow needle is inserted into the space between the catheter and the spinal column and the epidural space in the middle or lower back. The area to be inserted is numbed with a local anesthetic. Insertion of the needle is then done. The needle is removed after the catheter has been passed through it. The catheter remains in position after this. The anesthetic medication is then administered into the catheter, numbing the body region above and below the injection point as desired. Thereafter, the catheter is positioned on the back securely so it can be used again in the event that more medicine is required.

Spinal anesthesia is quite similar to an epidural anesthesia. However, the anesthetic medication is administered using a much smaller needle. The medication is injected directly into the cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid surrounds the spinal cord. The area of insertion is first numbed using a local anesthetic. The needle is then inserted into the spinal canal with precision and the anesthetic administered. Unlike the epidural anesthesia, a catheter is not needed to perform this. Spinal anesthesia numbs both parts of the body above and below the site of administration. Movement of the legs may be impossible until the effect of the anesthesia wears off.

The most common side effect of an anesthesia is a headache. It can be treated easily. Conversely, headaches are not so common with epidural anesthesia.

Epidural and spinal anesthesia are usually done in combination with other medications that causes sleepiness and relaxation or pain relief. These medications are administered intravenously. Sometimes, they may be injected into the epidural space alongside the local anesthetic.

The patient is closely monitored while receiving both types of anesthesia. This is because the anesthetics can adversely affect the central nervous system, respiratory system and cardiovascular system. Vital signs that may be affected include the blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, among others.

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