Can Epidurals Cause Birth Injuries?


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Epidural anesthesia is the most popular type of pain management for expectant mothers during labor and delivery. In fact, it’s reported that more than 60 percent of women in labor opt for this type of pain relief, often asking for an epidural by name. However, despite the common use and popularity of epidurals, there are numerous risks associated with this form of anesthesia that can lead to long-term injuries to both mothers and newborns.

What is an Epidural?

An epidural, also called epidural anesthesia, is a type of anesthesia that blocks pain in the lower part of the body. It is administered intravenously by inserting a long needle into the back, in the spinal cord area, during labor, typically after the cervix is dilated four or more centimeters. A small catheter is threaded through the long needle to make sure that the anesthetic is properly dispensed in the epidural area and that the catheter stays in place. The medication can then be dispersed continuously or intermittently.

Which Medications are Used as Epidural Anesthesia?

The medications that are used for epidurals are regional, or local, anesthetics. This means that targeted areas of the body are anesthetized while the patient is still fully conscious and aware of what is going on. The medications that are most commonly used for epidurals are:

  • Lidocaine
  • Bupivacaine
  • Chloroprocaine

In most labor and delivery cases where epidurals are used, narcotics or opioid painkillers are also used to ensure that the expectant mother has maximum pain relief as well as to help lower the dosage of the local anesthetics.

What Are the Risks Associated with Epidurals?

It is very important for pregnant women who plan to have an epidural during childbirth to understand the risks associated with this type of anesthesia. In some cases where something goes wrong with an epidural, proper medical procedures are followed yet there are still issues. However, there are also times in which negligence or careless medical mistakes cause birth injuries that could have been prevented.

Risks to the mother associated with epidurals include:

  • Infections
  • Spinal membrane injuries
  • Respiratory problems
  • Arachnoiditis (the inflammation of the arachnoid membrane that protects the nerves of the spinal cord)
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Nerve damage
  • Low blood pressure
  • Chronic, long-term back pain
  • Increased likelihood of forceps or vacuum extraction use during delivery

Risks to the newborn associated with epidurals include:

  • Lower Apgar scores
  • Oxygen deprivation, leading to serious health issues like cognitive disorders and cerebral palsy
  • Brain injuries
  • Stroke
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Coma

How Do Medical Mistakes Happen When Epidurals are Administered?

Because the area in which an epidural is administered is so near the spinal cord, even the smallest of mistakes can cause devastating consequences. That is why it’s required that a nurse-anesthetist (with the proper education and training) or a professional anesthesiologist administers the epidural anesthetic. Some of the most common reasons that epidural injuries occur due to medical mistakes are:

  • Injecting too much medication
  • Injecting the needle in the wrong area
  • Injecting the mother with medication that she is allergic to
  • Administering the epidural before the proper dilation of the cervix
  • Administering an epidural to a mother with a low platelet count or who is taking blood thinners
  • Failure to properly monitor fetal and maternal distress

Any one of the above situations can lead to birth injuries to either mother or child that have the potential to become chronic and long-term.

Important Information for Expectant Mothers

There are some important points to remember if you are an expectant mother. You should always be required to give your permission before an epidural is administered. There are times when healthcare professionals assume that an epidural is necessary before they get the express consent from the mother.

If you do consent to an epidural, it is the obligation of the healthcare provider to thoroughly inform you of the risks associated with doing so. You should request information about the type of medication that will be used, the risks, possible complications, and any other information you feel is important before you consent to the procedure.

It is always a good idea to discuss the ins and outs of receiving an epidural prior to the time you are in active labor. During labor, it’s likely that you will not be as clear-headed and able to weigh the pros and cons of having an epidural

When Birth Injuries Occur Due to an Epidural

If you, your child, or another loved one has suffered birth injuries due to mistakes made during the administration of an epidural, it’s important that you seek the help of an experienced birth injury attorney. You may be entitled to financial compensation for the injuries you sustained.

At Ross Feller Casey, we have successfully recovered more than $600 million for our clients in just the last three years alone. We are widely considered the leading birth injury law firm in Pennsylvania as we have successfully resolved more birth injury cases than any other law firm in the state. Let us help you with your birth injury lawsuit.

Contact our offices today for your free case evaluation and advice on how to proceed. All our birth injury cases are handled on a contingency basis, which means you do not have to pay anything until your case is settled or won.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.