Anesthesia Errors During an Epidural

Staff Writer | May 17th, 2013

anesthesia errorsWhile many expectant mothers go into labor with no plans for an epidural, more than 50% eventually opt for it. Epidural injections reduce the pain experienced during childbirth, and some women say that they are more alert during labor after receiving one, allowing them to experience the birth more fully without the distraction of crippling pain. But in some cases anesthesia errors can be made, so it’s important to fully understand the risks involved before undergoing an epidural.

What is an epidural?

An epidural is a local anesthetic given to mothers to relieve the pain that goes with childbirth. It is designed to numb the nerve impulses in the lower part of the spine. There are two types of epidural:

  • Regular epidural. The most common kind of epidural, it requires the mother to arch her back and have an injection in the lower back, near their spinal cord . The injection usually contains morphine and an anesthetic.
  • Combined spinal-epidural (CSE). Also known as a ‘walking epidural’, this involves injecting a starting dose of anesthetic and narcotic beneath the spinal cord’s membrane. It allows for more flexibility, such as the option for a regular epidural if the starting dose is not sufficient.

What can go wrong with an epidural?

Some women have a positive experience with epidurals, as it allows them to fully appreciate the experience of childbirth. For others, the epidural itself becomes the source of stress. The type of experience is dependent on factors like physiology – some women’s body’s are more receptive than others – and the doctor administering the injection.

To avoid anesthesia errors, it’s vital that any epidural is closely monitored by an anesthetist and medical staff helping with the delivery. Failure to do so can lead to rapid, dangerous drops in blood pressure. Epidurals can also cause:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Nausea
  • Severe headaches
  • Shivering
  • Permanent damage to the mother
  • Improper fetal positioning
  • Respiratory problems in the infant
  • Variability in the fetal heart rate

Perhaps surprisingly, the first problem on the list can be one of the most serious anesthesia errors. A recent Boston study determined that epidural-related fevers can lead to poor muscle tone in babies, as well as respiratory problems, seizures, and low scores on the Apgar test (used to measure general health of a newborn).

The study looked at 3,200 women. More than 19% of those who had an epidural developed a fever, compared to 2.4% of women who did not receive one. Women with fevers are approximately three times more likely to give birth to infants who required resuscitation, according to the research.

What types of anesthesia errors are there?

There are a few forms of medical mistakes when administering epidurals:

  • Administering an epidural when it is not appropriate
  • Giving too many injections
  • Injecting the epidural in the wrong area
  • Injecting the epidural directly into the spinal cord

What legal recourse do I have for anesthesia errors?

In cases of negligence, a New York medical malpractice lawyer can help you establish liability for injuries caused by epidurals. There are a number of questions to ask before bringing a birth injury lawsuit against medical staff:

  • Was the injury a result of a medical professional’s action or inaction?
  • Would you have suffered the same injuries had those actions not taken place?
  • Could something else have caused yours or your child’s injury?

An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can help you answer those questions and make a case for a lawsuit. If you have grounds to file a lawsuit, you may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and any other damages caused by doctor negligence.

A New York medical malpractice lawyer from The Sanders Firm can help you establish liability, and advise you of the advantages and disadvantages entailed in filing a lawsuit against the healthcare professionals responsible for your delivery. If you or your child has suffered injury as a result of anesthesia errors, and you live in New York, contact The Sanders Firm at 1-800 FAIR PLAY for a free case evaluation.

American Pregnancy Association, Epidural Anesthesia http://americanpregnancy.org/labornbirth/epidural.html