By Robert Preidt
Researchers analyzed data from more than 80,000 women who received epidural or spinal anesthesia during childbirth and found that the overall rate of complications was just under 3 percent.
The most common complications involved medications, including receiving too much or too little anesthesia, or being given unintended or expired medications.
The fear of "spinal headache" is common among women about to receive epidural or spinal anesthesia, but this complication -- formally known as a post-dural puncture headache -- occurred in only 0.2 percent of patients, according to the study. The findings are scheduled for presentation Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in New Orleans.
"The rates of complications are extremely low for obstetrical patients receiving anesthesia care, but there is always room for improvement," study author Dr. Samir Jani, an anesthesiology resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said in a society news release.
The data used in the study came from the Anesthesia Quality Institute's National Anesthesia Clinical Outcomes Registry.
"This registry helps us better understand the practice of anesthesia in all settings in our health care system and identify differences that may help us improve patient safety. Our goal is to prevent complications from occurring and make anesthesia even safer," Jani said.
An epidural involves inserting a tiny tube into the lower back to provide pain relief in that region of the body. An epidural doesn't take effect immediately, but pain medication can be administered continually throughout labor. With a spinal, the medication is delivered nearer to the spinal cord, providing immediate pain relief, but eventually it wears off.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.