Self service - the future of epidurals?
Women may soon be given control of their own epidurals during labour.
Currently in the UK, 40% of women giving birth opt for an epidural as a form of pain relief. For the majority, a steady flow of anaesthetic is delivered directly into the spine to numb the lower half of the body.
The amount of pain relief received and when is usually out of our hands, but this could be changing.
A study of 270 pregnant women in America allowed a third of the women involved to take control of their own epidural with the use of a handheld device.
The mums-to-be could press a button when they felt the need for some more pain relief – but not too frequently as the button would lockout for a period of time after each press.
The women using patient-controlled epidural analgesia (PCEA) used 30% less anaesthetic than those using the traditional form of epidural, the study from the Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in California revealed.
As less anaesthetic was used in PCEA, fewer women had an instrumental delivery requiring the use of forceps.
However, although the patient satisfaction rate was almost the same between the two groups of women, those using PCEA did experience slightly more pain in the final stages of labour.
PCEA is currently only available in one fifth of hospitals in the UK due to the expensive costs of the equipment needed. Experts are now looking in to whether the positive effects outweigh the costs.
“The technique reduces the need for anaesthetic which in turn reduces the need for forceps delivery – and it gives women a feeling of control. The question is whether the small clinical advantages are enough to justify the cost of new equipment and staff training,” Dr Elizabeth McGrady, a honorary clinical lecturer in anaesthetics at Glasgow University said to the BBC.