Celiac plexus blocks are injections of pain management medication that help relieve abdominal pain, commonly due to cancer, chronic pancreatitis or adhesions. An injection of local anesthetic is used to block the celiac plexus nerves that transmit pain signals from your abdomen to your brain. A celiac plexus block procedure can be performed as a diagnostic test or a treatment.
Chronic refractory pain significantly decreases quality of life and often requires high doses of narcotics, which can lead to serious adverse side effects. Celiac plexus blocks has been shown to have long-lasting improvement in abdominal pain and decreased narcotic usage in 70 to 90% of patients. In addition, with fewer than 2% of patients experiencing major complications, celiac plexus blocks is a quick, safe procedure. For some, celiac plexus blocks can relieve pain for weeks. For others, the relief can last years. Many can return to their normal activities. Usually people need a series of injections to continue the pain relief. Sometimes it takes only two injections; sometimes it takes more than 10.
The risk of complication from a celiac plexus block is very low. However, there could be bruising or soreness at the injection site. Serious complications, including infection, collapsed lung, nerve damage and bleeding, are uncommon.
First, you’ll be given an intravenous medication to relax you. Then, you’ll lie on your stomach on an x-ray table. The doctor will numb an area of skin on your back with a local anesthetic. Then, guided by an x-ray, he or she will:
Your abdomen may feel warm or “different,” and you may begin to feel less abdominal pain. You can continue your regular diet and pain management medications immediately, but do not drive or do any rigorous activity for 24 hours after the procedure. Take it easy. You can return to your normal activities the next day.
The nerve block may last several days, but it may last longer with each repeat injection.
A celiac plexus block may be right for you if you have chronic abdominal pain, especially linked to abdominal cancers, which does not respond to other pain medication. There’s a better chance of a block relieving your pain if you have the procedure earlier in your illness.
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