Epidural analgesia is frequently used for the laboring woman and commonly regarded as safe. The association of epidural analgesia with fever, in the absence of infection, in this population can result in unnecessary sepsis workups in both neonates and mothers. Studies in other populations of patients have found that epidural anesthesia may be associated with alterations in white blood cell count parameters. This study was designed to determine if epidural analgesia is associated with alterations in immune profile or immune function in healthy afebrile postpartum women.Design:
This prospective quasi-experimental study examined a convenience sample of normal afebrile postpartum women in two groups for differences in immune profile and immune function based on whether they received epidural analgesia during labor and delivery.Methods:
Mothers who agreed to participate in the study and met inclusion criteria had blood drawn for immune profile and immune function studies within 24 hours of their delivery. This study looked at immune phenotypic profile, lymphocyte proliferative response, and NK lysis assays.Results:
No differences in immune profile or immune function were found based on administration of epidural analgesia.Clinical Implications:
Nurses can be confident that the white blood cell count and other phenotypic measures of leukocytes are not affected by epidural analgesia. Thus the epidural analgesic technique appears not to alter immune measures of infection in postpartum women. In evaluating fever in postpartum mothers and neonates, nurses should consider prior receipt of epidural analgesia and measures of immune profile. In addition to fever and white blood cell counts, other signs and symptoms of infection should also be evaluated in postpartum women when infection is suspected.