Labor Analgesia

Schrock, Steven D.; Harraway-Smith, Carolyn
March 2012
American Family Physician;3/1/2012, Vol. 85 Issue 5, p447
Academic Journal
Regional analgesia has become the most common method of pain relief used during labor in the United States. Epidural and spinal analgesia are two types of regional analgesia. With epidural analgesia, an indwelling catheter is directed into the epidural space, and the patient receives a continuous infusion or multiple injections of local anesthetic. Spinal injections are usually single injections into the intrathecal space. A combination of epidural and spinal analgesia, known as a walking epidural, also is available. This technique combines the rapid pain relief from the spinal regional block with the constant and consistent effects from the epidural block. It allows sufficient motor function for patients to ambulate. Complications with regional analgesia are uncommon, but may include postdural puncture headache. Rare serious complications include neurologic injury, epidural hematoma, or deep epidural infection. Regional analgesia increases the risk of instrument-assisted vaginal delivery, and family physicians should understand the contraindications and risks of complications. Continuous labor support (e.g., doula), systemic opioid analgesia, pudendal blocks, water immersion, sterile water injections into the lumbosacral spine, self-taught hypnosis, and acupuncture are other options for pain management during labor.


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