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Epidural Pain Control for Adults


Epidural pain control is when pain medicine is put into the space around your spinal cord (epidural space). An epidural is a way to get pain medicine without repeated injections. An epidural can help decrease acute (short-term) pain from childbirth, surgery, or an accident. It can also be used to decrease long-term pain, like cancer pain.



  • Pain medicine: Do not wait until the pain is severe before you use your medicine. Pain medicine may make you drowsy. Do not drive or use heavy equipment while you take medicine for pain.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Care for your exit site:

Keep your exit site clean and covered. You may be told to change the bandage every day for the first 7 days. After that, change it every second day. Change your bandages any time they get wet or dirty. If you cannot reach the incision areas, ask someone to help you.

Change your bandage as directed:

You will need 4 sterile cotton swabs, antibacterial solution, 2 sterile precut gauze pads, 1 sterile 4x4 gauze pad, and a roll of 1 inch wide tape.

  • Wash your hands: Use soap and water, and dry them completely.
  • Carefully remove the old bandage: Do not pull on the catheter.
  • Look at your exit site: Contact your primary healthcare provider if you see redness, swelling, drainage, or any other changes.
  • Clean the skin around your exit site: Use a cotton swab dipped in antibacterial solution. Clean your skin in a circle, starting at the catheter and moving out about 3 inches. Throw away the cotton swab. Repeat this step 2 more times.
  • Clean the catheter: Gently wipe the catheter with another cotton swab dipped in antibacterial solution. Start from the exit site and go up to the filter.
  • Cover the exit site with the sterile gauze pads: Gently put the catheter through the precut slit in the first gauze pad. Do not touch the side of the pad that will touch your skin. Turn the second precut gauze pad so the slit is turned in the opposite direction of the first pad. Gently put the catheter through the slit and put the gauze over the exit site.
  • Cover with the 4x4 gauze pad: Use the 4x4 gauze pad to cover the smaller precut gauze pads. Tape the edges of the larger gauze pad. Loop the catheter over the 4x4 gauze pad and tape the catheter in place.

Change the filter on the machine as directed:

You may be taught to change the filter and tubing for the medicine. You will need a new sterile filter, sterile cotton swab, antibacterial solution, and a roll of 1 inch wide tape. You will also need new tubing and new syringe of medicine.

  • Wash your hands: Use soap and water, and dry them completely.
  • Open the filter and injection cap package: Remove the cap from the new filter. Do not touch the end of the filter.
  • Connect the new filter to new tubing: The tubing should be attached to the new medicine syringe. Let the medicine flow through the filter.
  • Clean the area with antibacterial solution: Remove the tape from the old filter. Wipe the catheter tip (where the old filter is attached to the catheter) with a cotton swab dipped in antibacterial solution. Allow it to air dry.
  • Remove the old filter: Ask how or where to throw it away. Keep it away from children and pets.
  • Connect the new filter to the catheter: Tape the area where the filter hooks to the catheter to keep it from coming apart.

When you can bathe:

You may take a shower 1 week after the catheter has been placed. Cover the catheter and exit site with a waterproof covering such as plastic food wrap. Tape around the edges of the wrap to keep it from leaking. Put on a clean, new bandage after you shower.

Contact your primary healthcare provider or pain specialist if:

  • You feel that your pain is not being controlled by the medicine.
  • The skin around your incisions is red or swollen, or the incision has pus draining from it.
  • You have trouble moving, urinating, or having a bowel movement.
  • You have questions about or problems with your medicine pump.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have trouble breathing, are dizzy, or have itchy skin or a rash.
  • You have a stiff neck or trouble thinking clearly.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.