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Epidurals Safe for Women of All Sizes, Report University of Pittsburgh Researchers

NEW ORLEANS, October 15, 2001 — There is no relationship between the size of a patient and the occurrence of epidural fever, according to a study presented today by University of Pittsburgh researchers at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA abstract A-1052). Researchers also found that there was no relationship between occurrence of epidural fever and the length of epidural anesthesia.

Maternal temperatures may increase in healthy women who have received lumbar epidural anesthesia – a condition called epidural fever.

“Epidural anesthesia is safe for both the mother and the baby and can make the birthing experience much more positive,” said Helene Finegold, M.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “By finding that the size of the patient has no relation to the chance of epidural fever, we can reassure our patients that they are not putting themselves or their babies at an increased risk by being larger or smaller than average.”

Researchers examined data on 406 healthy patients who were in active labor with no infections or complications associated with their pregnancies and who requested lumbar epidural anesthesia. The patient’s temperature was measured when the epidural was placed and again when the patient reached 10 cm dilation. The duration of epidural analgesia was also recorded. Using the patient’s height and weight, their body mass index (BMI) and body surface area (BSA) was calculated.

“Since heat dissipation is dependent on body size, we were interested in seeing if there was a relationship between size of the patient and the occurrence of epidural fever,” said Dr. Finegold, who is also an anesthesiologist at Magee-Womens Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “The cause of this transient change in temperature is still unknown, but now we know that physical size and length of anesthesia are not a factor.”

Results showed that on average, the patients’ temperature only slightly increased (less than one degree Fahrenheit), and this increase did not correlate with the patients BMI or BSA.

Only 25 patients experienced epidural fever (temperatures of over 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit). In these patients, there was no significant correlation to BMI or BSA.

Duration of epidural anesthesia also did not correlate with an increase in body temperature.

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