Yes, but it’s really unlikely. A study published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia reported the estimated risk of permanent harm following a spinal anesthetic or epidural as less than 1 in 20,000. This risk is often considerably lower for women in labor, as they tend to be healthier than those people receiving an epidural because of illness or injury.
The rare times paralysis has occurred, it was because of direct injury to the spinal cord; a spinal hematoma, which is an accumulation of blood in the epidural space; or an epidural abscess, an infection between the outer covering of the brain and spinal cord. However, even these are circumstances that don’t always lead to paralysis.
What to do
If possible, don’t let fear over this miniscule risk stop you from receiving an epidural if you really need one. It’s more likely you’ll be struck by lightning than experience paralysis from an epidural.
In addition, be sure to tell the anesthesiologist if you have a blood clotting disorder or have been on blood thinners. This should all be in your chart, but it’s still wise to mention it.
If you feel an epidural is the right choice for you but you’re afraid of paralysis, ask the anesthesiologist to reassure you. Hopefully, they’ll be able to outline how experienced they are and what an excellent track record they have, and to explain that with modern-day training and tools, paralysis doesn’t need to be a concern.
They should also tell you which sensations to expect, and which to report, as the epidural is being placed. Many women experience stinging, burning, pressure, a sensation of coolness, or all of these in their back as the numbing medication is applied and the needle is inserted. It’s not
supposed to be too intense. (The worst part is having to hold still while you have contractions.) But if you have any of the following sensations, you should tell the anesthesiologist immediately:
- Sudden loss of sensation in one or both legs
- Sharp, shooting pain
- Uncontrollable shaking in your legs
- Intense hot flash
- Anything else that feels “off ”
Relaxation tool: Download this guided meditation and listen to it as the epidural is being placed, or anytime throughout labor, to re- duce anxiety and enhance calm: yourserenelife.wordpress.com/epidural -meditation/.