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Post Epidural Headaches

Post Epidural Headaches

It’s been several months since my son’s birth, and I’ve been thinking hard about sharing one of my experiences with other moms out there. I had an emergency c-section with my first child and my second child was on track to be a rather large baby. After discussions with my OB, we decided it was best for me to schedule a c-section for this time around.

The day had finally arrived! In the OR, the anesthesia team prepped me for the procedure and I couldn’t wait to see my baby’s face. I felt the cold then warm sensation of the medication working and awaited his arrival. It wasn’t long before we heard his voice and my world changed for the second time.

Every mother’s experience post delivery has its similarities and differences. Recovering in my room, I felt happy, exhausted, groggy and excited, but under it all there was this terrible squeezing and dizzying pain in my head. I thought to myself, of course my head hurts… I’ve just had major abdominal surgery. Each day, the nursing team and physicians tried to manage the pain with medication, movement, etc. I started getting headaches and migraines regularly after my first child, so I didn’t think this was out of the ordinary. But nothing really seemed to work. I chalked it up to part of my recovery this time around. Post c-section it’s really important to begin trying to walk and move slowly to prepare for the transition to home. So of course, I was trying to balance first feedings with my son, visits from family, learning how to move again, and all the while my head was in waves of excruciating pain.

Discharge day came and I was cleared to leave with my son in my arms. I was so excited to bring him home. The ride home was really rough. Of course, the pothole laden streets of New Orleans didn’t make for a smooth ride. When I opened the car door to get out, I nearly passed out in the driveway from the headache. The pain in my head had gone from a 3 to a 15 in the short car ride home. I quickly went to bed and slept it off. The awful pain continued for days and the only thing that helped was lying down completely flat in the dark. As you can imagine, this went over really well while trying to care for a 3 year old and a newborn.

Several days later, one of my friends, was texting me to check in and see how I was feeling. I told her about my horrible headaches and she mentioned that she knew someone who had something similar post epidural. I did the not-so-healthy thing and started Googling everything online about epidural headaches. While normally I might find something outlandish, rare or terrifying in my online “research,” it seemed that all of my symptoms were in line with post epidural headaches, or spinal headaches. I immediately called the hospital to see if my hunch was right and after consulting with a couple of OB anesthesiologists, they confirmed that I had a classic case of post epidural headaches. They told me this is a rare occurrence but it’s still a possibility. This means that when my medication for my epidural was administered, some of the medication leaked beyond the epidural space and caused a headache.

They offered some basic at home options to help with the pain, e.g. caffeine, medications, laying flat for hours, etc. The next option if nothing improved was something called a blood patch. A blood patch would require me to come back into the OR where my blood would be drawn and then reinserted into the same epidural space or around it to create a patch with my own blood. This is what they typically recommend if the headaches last for more than 24 hours. This treatment has a very high efficacy rate, but as you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of sitting up in the car, driving back to the hospital, going into an OR again to have another needle in my back for something that wasn’t 100% guaranteed. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the team of expert anesthesiologists; I just didn’t know much more pain I could endure. The anesthesiologist said that without the patch the headaches could last longer but they couldn’t be certain for how long. He said coming in for the treatment was my decision and that they would be available if need be.

I want to be clear, this was totally my call. I decided against the blood patch and decided to weather the storm. Fourteen grueling days later of lying in my guest room with the curtains drawn; my headaches finally started to subside.

I made it through, but I wish I had known about this ahead of time. I eventually learned that this can happen after any procedure with an epidural and since my experience, I have met several people who have gone through the same scenario.

I realize there are procedures and c-sections happening every day and with no complications. This is a brief story of my recovery to provide awareness to those who may be going through the same thing. While I chose not to receive the recommended treatment at the time, and I’m not sure I would make the same decision again, I know my sweet baby’s smile is what kept me pushing through each day. 

Read more about post epidural headaches on Ochsner.org.

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