The last thing a woman who has just given birth wants is an excruciating headache, but for many it is a complication of having an epidural.
In Australia, about one in three women are given an epidural for pain relief during childbirth.
Of those, about one in 150 will develop a severe headache/s when the epidural needle unintentionally punctures the membrane surrounding the spinal cord.
Despite advances in medical technology, the proportion of women who experience a post-epidural headache has remained largely unchanged over the past decade, according to Dr Matt Rucklidge, specialist anaesthetist at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth.
Speaking at a large meeting of anaesthetists in Sydney, Dr Rucklidge told his colleagues more research was needed to reduce the incidence.
“Most ‘post-dural puncture’ headaches settle over time but in some cases the impact can be incapacitating. This can be very difficult if you are a new mother or have other children to look after at home. It can lead to prolonged hospital stays and difficulties caring for the new baby.”
He also called for better epidural training of anaesthetists.
While an epidural is a common procedure it is “one of the harder skills to acquire”, said Dr Rucklidge.
“Teaching the epidural technique is not straight forward as key steps of the procedure require an appreciation of the ‘feel’ of the tissues as the needle is advanced,” Dr Rucklidge explained.
“If we can provide better and more focused training this may result in fewer headaches for not just our patients but for those learning and teaching this challenging procedure.”