Sympathetic Block Injections
The sympathetic nervous system links nerves throughout the body. It originates in the spinal cord and branches out, influencing a number of bodily functions including blood pressure, sexual arousal, defecation, and urination. A sympathetic block is performed by injecting local anesthetic into a sympathetic ganglion which can be used to both diagnose and treat disorders of the sympathetic nervous system. There are two main sets of ganglia in the spine. The sympathetic chain controls sensations in the lower body while the stellate controls the upper body. When these nerves become irritated or injured, the blood supply is often affected, which can produce pain in the limbs, the neck, and head.
Utah Sympathetic Blocks Treatments
A sympathetic block is usually performed by a doctor in an outpatient setting. First, the patient will be numbed using a local anesthetic. When the patient is satisfactorily numb, the doctor will insert a needle near the ganglion. A mixture of local anesthetic and a corticosteroid will be injected using fluoroscopic guidance to ensure proper needle placement. The entire procedure takes about 15 minutes, after which, the physician will monitor the patient's pain levels to see how effective the block was.
Risks and Benefits
After receiving the first injection, two things may happen. First, total pain relief might be achieved. If this is the case, the patient's pain did originate from the sympathetic nervous system and repeated injections will likely be beneficial. If, however, the pain is not relieved, the patient's pain is not coming from the sympathetic nervous system, and the block will have had diagnostic value. Either way, sympathetic blocks are minimally invasive with low risk of complications. Some of the possible complications involved include bleeding, infection, nerve damage, pneumothorax (collapsed lung), and pharmacological complication resulting from drugs used in the procedure. Because sympathetic nerves are blocked in a successful procedure, some transient changes may occur, but will usually resolve themselves in a matter of hours. These changes may include drooping eyelids or stuffy nose.
Sympathetic nerve blocks can be effective in relieving chronic pain in some patients and are utilized as a diagnostic tool for others. A successful sympathetic block will be marked by rapid relief of pain symptoms. Because sympathetic nervous pain is not easily treated by pain medication, blocks are considered a very effective and beneficial treatment option.
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