As soon as my mom found out she was expecting her first son, she made it very clear that she was going through this experience fully medicated. Unfortunately, when it came time or her to give birth, she got more than a baby out of the experience. Crippling headaches plagued her after her birth. Her doctor told her it was an unfortunate side effect of the epidural she had gotten. I was stunned. I had always been a little squeamish of the idea of a large needle going into a woman’s spine, but I didn’t know what type of side effects could happen. What was causing her headaches, and was there anything that could be done to get her relief?

For many women, an epidural is the only way to go when it comes to labor and delivery. They don’t even want to think about the concept of going through labor without medication, much less attempt it. Unfortunately, a pain-free experience isn’t always what women get out of a labor augmented by an epidural. Sometimes this procedure results in the puncture of the lumbar dura. Though this type of puncture is sometimes done purposefully for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes, there are times when such a procedure can lead to so-called “spinal headaches.” These intensely painful and persistent headaches can last for weeks, and be truly debilitating. This can lead to new mothers being incapable of caring for their babies and suffering from pain and nausea so intense they are unable to leave their beds.

Fortunately, studies have found that blood patches can be highly effective at treating these headaches. These patches, which comprise of the patient’s own blood, are injected directly into the spinal space in order to create a literal patch with the clot. In 90% of patients suffering spinal, or dural, headaches after having an epidural, this blood patch therapy is effective at relieving the headache pain. Should an initial patch prove ineffective, the vast majority of patients could be provided relief with a second blood patch.

Source: Baysinger, Curtis, et al. The Successful Treatment of Dural Puncture Headache after Failed Epidural Blood Patch, Anesthesia and Analgesia, 1986.

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