It’s hard to pinpoint the worst pain a person can experience, as every pain experience is personal. For most people, though, abdominal pain (and all of its attendant potential complications) is up there near the top. Not only is it challenging to go about daily life with sharp and constant abdominal pain, simple things like sharing a meal with family becomes a near impossibility. Patients who are experiencing this type of pain may want to consider a celiac plexus block. Here’s what you should know about this procedure.

What is a celiac block?

The celiac plexus is a group of nerves centered around the aorta, the main artery to your abdomen. This bundle of nerves sends pain signals to the brain from major organs including the:

  • Pancreas
  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Gall bladder
  • Spleen
  • Small and large intestines

Blocking the signals these nerves send can help instantly relieve abdominal pain. The celiac plexus block technique specifically addresses abdominal pain that is transmitted through the celiac plexus.

This is not the pain you might feel when you eat too much or have the stomach flu. A celiac plexus block is for pain caused by serious illnesses such as stomach cancer or chronic pancreatitis. Patients with these conditions often struggle to eat or function normally due to excruciating stomach pain.

A carefully placed injection of epinephrine, clonidine, or a steroid can help them relieve pain and return to a better quality of life. In some cases, alcohol or phenol is also injected to dampen the nerves for serious long-term relief.

How can the celiac plexus block technique help me?

Celiac plexus blocks are most helpful for patients who haven’t found any pain relief from medications or other treatments. These patients may also experience a high incidence of side effects from their medications or be on others medications that make taking pain medications impossible.

Conditions most frequently treated with a celiac plexus block include all cancers in the major organs listed above. Patients with severe and chronic pancreatitis may also find relief with a celiac plexus block procedure.

Some patients may need to take precautions before this procedure (or may be ineligible due to comorbid conditions). Patients who are taking blood thinners, medications for diabetes, or diuretics may be asked to discontinue these medications before getting a celiac plexus block. While these medications do not disqualify patients from a celiac plexus block, it is important that their use be monitored before and after the procedure.

How long does a celiac plexus block last?

The effects of a celiac plexus block vary wildly. Some find pain relief for weeks; others for years.

For some lucky patients, they find that their pain relief is so profound and long-lasting that they can return to normal activities afterwards.

How is a celiac plexus block performed?

Because a celiac plexus block procedure uses IV sedation to relax you, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions before the procedure (usually, no food or water after midnight before your procedure). The patient’s comfort remains is always our number one goal and priority at Alliance Pain Solutions.

To start, you will lie face down on the table during the procedure. A topical anesthetic will be applied to the area to be injected to reduce discomfort. Using fluoroscopic guidance, we will generally complete the celiac plexus block procedure in the following three steps.

  1. Inject anesthetic into a space just next to your spine
  2. On the other side of the spine, inject dye to ensure correct location of the medication
  3. Inject medication

The steps may differ slightly depending on your case. As delicate a procedure as it might seem, the entire celiac plexus block procedure takes between 45 and 90 minutes. After a brief recovery period while your anesthesia wears off, you can return home the same day.

In terms of how fast people experience pain relief, results are highly individual. Some patients experience near-instant relief of pain; others need multiple injections to find comfort. Just as pain is an individual experience, so, too, is pain relief.

Celiac plexus block recovery time

When you wake from sedation, you may experience dizziness, nausea, and confusion. As the anesthesia wears off, these feelings will pass. You will stay in the recovery area until you feel aware and are not experiencing dizziness or nausea. You will need to have someone drive you home from your procedure.

It’s best to take it easy for at least 24 hours after your celiac plexus block procedure. Your belly may feel warm or slightly numb, and you may already feel less pain.

Due to the anesthetic, your legs may feel weak, but this should subside as the IV anesthetic wears off. Other side effects may include low blood pressure or diarrhea, but these should pass within three to five days.

Rare but serious side effects may include:

  • Injury to major blood vessels, nerves, or kidneys
  • Partial collapse of the lungs
  • Improper injection of nerve medication into a blood vessel (instead of the nerve)
  • Bowel or bladder issues
  • Allergic reactions to medications or dye used during the procedure

Working with a pain specialist who is highly experienced in performing celiac plexus blocks can reduce your chances of these rare side effects.

Patients who are taking pain medications may be advised to continue taking those for 24 to 48 hours after your procedure. If you experience fever, swelling or pain at the injection site, or generally feel unwell, call your doctor immediately. This could be a sign of infection or serious complication.

We are Alliance Pain Solutions. Our West Phoenix pain management clinic welcomes patients from all over the Valley. If you are suffering from abdominal pain that has not responded to other treatments, get in touch today.

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