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FDA questions the safety of epidural shots

Typically people are given epidurals to relieve pain. However, according to some recent statistics, many experts are now questioning how safe these shots really are.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the safety of what is known as the transforaminal approach, which is when the shot is injected just millimeters from arteries that feed into the spinal cord. The concern regarding these types of shots stems from an increase in the number of people who are having complications following an epidural, including cases of paralysis, and even death.

Currently the FDA's Safe Use Initiative is reviewing the safety of epidurals. This unit was created within the FDA to specifically try and reduce cases involving preventable harm caused by medication.

These concerns come at a time when there are more and more people getting epidurals. In fact, there were at least 8.9 million patients in the U.S. who received the shot last year, and overall epidurals are now the No. 1 choice among many doctors to treat back and neck pain. Even just between 2000 and 2010 there was a 159 percent increase in epidural shots being administered to Medicare patients.

When looking at why epidurals are on the rise, the answer seems to be two-fold: the population is aging and complaining of neck and back pain, and doctors receive profitable reimbursements from private insurers and Medicare for administering the shots.

However, when it comes to complications, a 2007 report in Spine found 78 cases where patients who received shots in the upper cervical area of their spine ended up with serious injuries, and 13 people died. An analysis of medical malpractice claims between 2005 and 2008 also found 31 cases where a person reported spinal injuries after receiving a shot in the neck. Another eight also reportedly had strokes.


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