Doctors use blood patch procedures to treat spinal headaches, rare events that may happen after epidurals or other medical procedures involving the spine. In a blood patch your own blood is injected into your spine.

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Sometimes, after certain medical procedures — such as an epidural, a lumbar puncture, or a lumbar myelogram — some of your spinal fluid leaks out, causing a spinal headache.

One remedy for a spinal headache is a blood patch procedure in which doctors use a small amount of your blood to close (or patch) the leak.

You likely have many questions if you’re considering a blood patch procedure. Here, we cover what the procedure involves, why you might need it, and any possible complications that may arise.

A blood patch procedure is a medical technique doctors use to address spinal headaches, which are side effects that can result from medical procedures like epidurals used for labor, lumbar punctures, or lumbar myelograms.

These headaches occur when cerebrospinal fluid leaks from the spinal space where the doctors place the needle, causing pressure on the spine and brain.

During the blood patch procedure, doctors use a small amount of your blood to seal the space of spinal fluid leakage. This reduces pressure and allows your headache to resolve.

People get a blood patch procedure mainly to address the symptoms of a spinal headache. There are a few medical procedures that may put you at risk for a spinal headache, such as:

Whether you’ll opt for a blood patch procedure or not will depend on how severe your spinal headache is and how long it lasts. Symptoms of spinal headache vary from one person to another but may include:

Many people undergoing a blood patch procedure have significant symptoms that don’t respond to at-home remedies like pain relievers and bed rest.

People unable to get adequate rest, such as caregivers of infants or young children, may be more likely to get the procedure.

Before the procedure, your doctor will explain the procedure to you, including benefits and risks, and you’ll need to consent to the procedure in writing.

The doctor will ask you to lie on your stomach to prepare for the procedure, usually with a pillow under your chest or belly. They’ll place an intravenous line in your arm so they can draw blood.

Your doctor will pinpoint the area where they need to inject the blood using a type of X-ray called fluoroscopy.

The doctor will use a sterilizing solution to clean the area where the procedure will occur.

They’ll then give you a local anesthetic to numb your back. Next, they’ll place a spinal needle in the area on your back where the procedure will take place.

Once they set up the area, they’ll draw about 20 milliliters of your blood. The doctor will slowly inject this blood into your spine to form a blood patch, which will seal the area of spinal fluid leakage.

After a blood patch procedure, you’ll need to lie flat on your back for about 2 hours. This helps ensure that your blood clots.

After the procedure, your doctor will ask that you avoid strenuous exercise and twisting or bending your spine. Your doctor may suggest a laxative if you experience constipation.

Experts consider the blood patch procedure a highly effective method for eliminating spinal headache symptoms, relieving the headache in about 85% of people with it.

Surgeries performed for the second time can be effective for nearly 90% of people.

A blood patch procedure may not fully relieve headache symptoms, but it rarely worsens spinal headache symptoms.

Sometimes, people report moderate back pain after the procedure, though this usually resolves in a few days.

In rare cases, an infection might result from the procedure. Infection symptoms may include:

The alternative to a blood patch procedure is to use at-home remedies to soothe your headache and wait for the symptoms to disappear. Most spinal headaches resolve on their own in 7 to 10 days.

At-home remedies for spinal headaches include:

  • lying down as much as possible, as upright positions tend to worsen symptoms
  • drinking extra fluids
  • taking pain relief medication
  • increasing caffeine intake, which can decrease headache symptoms

Do you need antibiotics after a blood patch procedure?

Doctors don’t give antibiotics after this procedure, so avoid getting the procedure with an infection.

Will the blood patch procedure hurt?

Many people receive a local anesthetic during the procedure, which numbs the area. But some people may experience slight cramping or discomfort during the procedure. These symptoms are usually short-lived, however.

What are the drawbacks of blood patch procedures?

The biggest drawback of the procedure is that 15% to 20% of the time, the procedure may not fully eliminate your spinal headache symptoms and, in rare cases, may worsen your symptoms.

Blood patch procedures can effectively decrease spinal headache symptoms with low risks of side effects. However, these procedures are not for everyone. If you’re experiencing a severe spinal headache, contact a healthcare professional to learn more about a blood patch procedure and whether you’d be a good candidate for it.