What's an Epidural Headache & How Can I Treat It?

What's an Epidural Headache & How Can I Treat It?

Just given birth to your little babe? Congrats, mama — you really are a hero. 🦸‍♀️

But struggling with a post-epidural headache (or, at least, that’s what you think it might be)?

Epidurals [1] can often throw up a whole bunch of symptoms, like feeling sick, back pain, low blood pressure, and, you guessed it — headaches. 😖

But, once you’ve given birth, it can be really hard to tell what’s what.

(Especially since your body may feel like it’s been thrown from a bridge 🫠.)

But, what’s so special about this epidural headache, and how can you tell it apart from normal headaches from lack of sleep, or dehydration?

We’ve got you covered, mama.

In this article: 📝

  • Can you get a headache from an epidural?
  • How are epidural headaches caused?
  • What are the symptoms of epidural headaches?
  • When does an epidural headache start?
  • What percentage of people get headaches from epidural?
  • How long does a headache last after an epidural?
  • How do you know if your headache is from an epidural, or something else?

Can you get a headache from an epidural?

In short, yep — you can!

And it’s actually a certain type of headache, with its own name: post-dural puncture headache [2].

So, although headaches in general after surgery or childbirth are very common, these post-dural puncture headaches aren’t, as these only happen after a spinal injection or an epidural.

So, unless you’ve had spinal surgery, or you’ve given birth, you won’t feel these types of headaches at any other time in your life.

How are epidural headaches caused?

With an epidural, this headache is caused by the needle which is used to administer the injection. 💉

The needle is inserted just outside a bag of fluid (called the dura [3]) which is where your brain and spinal cord live.

And, in some cases, the needle accidentally passes through the dura, rather than just outside it.

This can cause a small hole, which then some of your fluid (specifically the Cerebrospinal fluid [4] - CSF) can leak out of.

But, with a spinal injection [5], this very fine needle is actually inserted into the dura deliberately — so, although the hole is exceptionally small, some liquid can still leak out.

This causes the pressure in the rest of the fluid around the brain to be reduced, and the headache to start. 😣

What are the symptoms of epidural headaches?

You can usually feel the pain either at the front or the back of the head, and it may be worse when you’re sitting down or standing.

You might feel some relief from lying down flat.

Other symptoms [2] might be neck pain, sickness, and sensitivity to bright lights. 💡

Some people who experience migraines may compare the two, as the symptoms can be similar, but an epidural headache can sometimes need treatment to relieve it (more on this later 👇).


How can you reduce symptoms of epidural headaches?

So, you can often wait for this to clear up on its own.

Or, in some cases, you may need to have treatment for this type of headache (more on this below 👇).

But, in the meantime, taking painkillers (such as paracetamol) should help, as well as lying flat as much as you can.

(We know… after giving birth, lying down flat may just not be an option. 🫠)

But, do try to avoid heavy lifting or straining, as this could cause more fluid pressure to build up.

Keep hydrated, and now could be the time to reintroduce caffeine back into your life (hallelujah 🙏), as caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee, or soda can be especially helpful[2].

But, just remember to keep to no more than 200mg a day [6], as that’s the recommended amount you should stay below when you’re breastfeeding. 🤱

🔍 Read More: Can You Have Caffeine When Breastfeeding?

When does an epidural headache start?

You’d think the headache would start immediately, right?

Actually, it can sneak up on you, just when you think you’ve got away with it. 🙃

It can start between 1 - 7 days [7] after your spinal or epidural injection.

What percentage of people get headaches from epidural?

So, how common are these headaches? 🤔

Well, it’s not completely known, but researchers estimate around 6 - 36% [8] of people who’ve had an epidural or spinal injection get a post-dural puncture headache.

So, the risk of getting one is between 1 in 100 and 1 in 500 procedures [9] — so it can vary a fair bit.

It’s thought that these headaches are more common in younger patients, and women who are having the spinal or epidural injection for childbirth (sorry to tell you, ladies 🤦‍♀️).

Also, if you have a low BMI, low cerebrospinal fluid pressure, or a history of previous epidural headaches, you’re also at a higher risk.

How long does a headache last after an epidural?

And, of course, the question we know you’ve been waiting for…

When does it end??? 🥲

In 85% of cases epidural headaches will clear up without any treatment.

But, in more severe instances, the medical team might intervene with treatment — enter: the epidural blood patch(10).

This is where some of your own blood is injected into your back — which, in theory, should act as a sealant for the hole and stop the leak of fluid. 🩸

Pretty clever, right?

And in around 60-70% [11] of people with an epidural headache, the epidural blood patch treatment will cure the headache in 24 hours. ✅

If the treatment doesn’t work, you may need to go back and have another blood patch.

So, although the hole in the dura will usually seal up by itself over a number of weeks, treatment is recommended in those with severe headaches as, if left untreated, it could lead to more serious complications.


How do you know if your headache is from an epidural, or something else?

Very good question, mama.

‘Cause, let’s face it — there’s a lot that’s been going on lately. 🙃

First things first, this ain’t no ordinary headache.

This is a headacheeee.

Like, you’re gonna know about it. 😖

So, if you’ve got a mild headache, it might be from an epidural, but it could be from something else. 

You could be dehydrated, not having enough sleep (we know, we know… 😅 it would be surprising if you were sleeping enough with a newborn!), or hormonal changes [12] may be knocking you about a bit.

So, if your headache is more severe, and you’ve had an epidural, it’s likely to be a post-dural puncture headache.

But mama, be careful not to self-diagnose — there may be something more serious at play here. ✋

That’s why it’s super important to report any headaches immediately to your doctor, as further investigation and appropriate treatment (like the epidural blood patch 👆) may be required.

Also, if you’re feeling drowsy, confused, you have a high fever, you have problems walking, or you’re vomiting with your headache, this is considered a medical emergency — so contact your doctor, or call the emergency services immediately.

🔍 Read More: What Analgesia (Pain Relief) is Available in Labor?

Can you sue for an epidural headache?

In some cases, you might be able to, yes.

But your case would have to point towards medical negligence as the cause of the headache.

You could also sue if the complications from the epidural caused lasting harm to the mother, or the baby.

As we mentioned earlier, sometimes, the epidural needle can pierce into the dura (the bag of fluid where the brain lives), and cause that liquid to leak out, which leads to the post-dural puncture headache.

But, in all cases, you will need to sign an epidural content form, which highlights the risks and potential side effects of having the injection.

If you want to sue your doctors for this complication, your best bet would be to seek legal advice. 👩‍⚖️

So, mama, if your head’s pounding and you’re struggling to stand, or even sit down after your epidural, reach out to your doctor as soon as you can.

Want some more advice from mamas who’ve been through it all before?

Head over to our Community on Peanut. 🥜


Close accordion
Popular on the blog
Trending in our community