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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Surgeries and Procedures > Spinal Anesthesia

Spinal Anesthesia

Alternate Names : Intraspinal Anesthesia, Subarachnoid Anesthesia, "A Spinal"

Overview & Description | Preparation & Expectations | Home Care and Complications

Spinal anesthesia is a way to eliminate pain during certain procedures or surgeries.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

This procedure is commonly called "a spinal." It is usually used for procedures below the rib cage. It is an alternative to general anesthesia. In some cases a spinal is better for a major operation if the person is very weak or sick.

How is the procedure performed?

This procedure involves injecting medications around the spinal cord. A needle or special tube is inserted through the skin of the back until it enters the spinal column, or spine. Medication is then injected inside a special sac that surrounds the spinal cord. The medication acts on nerves that come from the spinal cord.

Spinal anesthesia is different from but similar to epidural anesthesia, also known as an epidural. With an epidural, medication is also put inside the spinal column. However, with an epidural the medication is injected just outside the sac that surrounds the spinal cord. A spinal requires less medicine and works faster than an epidural. However, a spinal is more likely to cause a headache or low blood pressure.

Medication for a spinal is usually given as a one-time injection with a special needle. Another method is to put a special tube into the sac around the spinal cord. This tube stays in place. If the surgery lasts a long time or pain medication is needed after surgery, more medication can be given through the tube.

The medicine stops the sensation of pain and paralyzes the muscles, usually only below the rib cage. The amount of medication given and the location of the injection in the back are important. These factors can control where the numbness and paralysis are in the body. People are generally awake during the procedure. Sedatives can be given if people are anxious. During a spinal, people usually breathe on their own without needing an artificial breathing machine, or ventilator.

Careful monitoring is done during the procedure. Oxygen levels in the blood, blood pressure, pulse, and other functions are monitored. Fluids are usually given through an intravenous or IV. An IV is a thin tube that is inserted into a vein in the hand or arm. The fluid is given to prevent dehydration and low blood pressure. If a tube was inserted into the spinal column, it is taken out after the procedure.


Next section


Spinal Anesthesia: Preparation & Expectations

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Date Reviewed: 05/01/01

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