What is a Spinal Anesthetic?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 January 2020
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A spinal anesthetic is a type of medication used to block pain and sensation to the lower half of a person’s body. This type of anesthesia is typically used for medical procedures or surgery to parts of the body below the upper abdominal region. It involves injecting an anesthetic medication into the fluid that surrounds a person’s spinal cord.

There are many benefits attributed to the use of a spinal anesthetic. First, it takes effect quickly and is less likely to fail than some other forms of anesthesia. It also induces muscle relaxation, which can be important when undergoing certain types of surgeries. Types of procedures that may involve the use of a spinal anesthetic include those performed on a person’s legs, hernia surgery and Caesarean sections.

Unfortunately, the use of a spinal anesthetic is not without disadvantages and risks. Risks include seizures and convulsions, low blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms and heart attack. Total spinal anesthesia is another risk. This occurs when anesthesia is delivered to the wrong place, spreads too far, or is given in the wrong dosage; it can cause a person to lose consciousness, have difficulty breathing, experience seizures, or have a heart attack. Doctors can treat the effects of total spinal anesthesia, and the patient may recover without lasting effects, but it is a dangerous complication that could end in death.


To administer a spinal anesthetic, a doctor or anesthetist cleans the area of the patient’s back above his spinal chord. The doctor then delivers an injection of local anesthetic to the skin in the area. This is intended to help the patient better tolerate the needle that is used to deliver anesthesia to the spine. The doctor then gives a second, larger needle, injecting the medication into the spinal fluid sac.

After receiving a spinal anesthetic and having the required procedure performed, a patient typically has to lie flat for several hours. This is to prevent the development of a spinal headache, which can be severe enough to interfere with normal function. These headaches may be accompanied by nausea and dizziness, and some patients experience ringing in the ears and changes in vision as well. Often, spinal headaches worsen if patients attempt to move around and improve when patients lie down. They may be treated with rest and painkillers.



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