Epidurals and malpractice: When treatment causes pain, instead of easing it

Use of an epidural can result in complications, potentially leading to a medical malpractice suit.

Epidural anesthesia is designed to block the pain on certain portions of the patient’s body. Many patients find this form of anesthesia highly effective, but others have reported that the procedure resulted in increased levels of pain.

Basics of the procedure

Epidurals are often used for labor and deliveries, as well as surgeries that take place in the pelvis or legs. According to a publication by the National Library of Medicine, this procedure generally begins with the use a special cleaning solution around the area that the needle will be inserted. This area may also be numbed with a local anesthetic. Once the site is prepared, the needle is then inserted and the anesthesiologist injects an anesthetic. The injection generally occurs in the fluid around the spinal cord, an area referred to as the epidural space. The medicine is designed to take effect 10 to 20 minutes after injection.

The patient’s pulse, blood pressure and oxygen levels should be checked throughout the procedure.

Potential complications

Although generally safe, a number of complications are possible when getting an epidural. Examples include:

  • Drop in blood pressure. Hypotension, or a drop in blood pressure, is one of the more common side effects associated with the use of an epidural. This can lead to lightheadedness or nausea.
  • Infection of the spine. The presence of a foreign object, the needle, into the spine can result in infection. This could lead to the development of meningitis or an abscess.
  • Severe headaches. Some experience severe headaches after an epidural begins. This can be a sign that the lining of the spinal cord was punctured during the procedure. Additional medical treatment may be necessary if the headache does not subside shortly after the procedure is complete.

These are just a few of the more common complications that can result. Other complications, including nerve damage, seizures, and allergic reactions to the anesthetic, have also been reported.

Remedies available for victims

Remedies may be available to patients that receive an epidural and suffer from complications. Anesthesiologists and other medical professionals are required to follow an expected standard of care. Generally, when applied to a medical professional, the standard of care is one that requires the physician to treat the patient with the degree of skill, care and diligence as a reasonably competent physician would under similar circumstances. If this duty is not met, a claim for medical malpractice may exist. As a result, victims should contact an experienced anesthesia malpractice attorney to discuss their legal rights and any potential remedies.

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