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FDA Warns About Dangers of Epidural Steroid Injections for Back Pain

The Food and Drug Administration has just issued what’s called a “Medwatch Alert” warning that Epidural steroid injections or “ESIs” for back and neck pain can be extremely dangerous. The alert says: “Injection of corticosteroids into the epidural space of the spine may result in rare but serious adverse events, including loss of vision, stroke, paralysis, and death.”

Epidural steroid injections – and catastrophic injuries from them – were the subject of my debut investigation for The Dr. Oz Show almost exactly a year ago. (You can watch the video here and read the web article here.) The epidural space is an area between the spinal cord and the bony structure of the spine.

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Our investigation revealed that the steroids – called corticosteroids – used for epidural injections are not even FDA approved for this purpose and yet ESIs are done nearly 9 million times a year, according to an analysis by Dr. Laxmaiah Manchikanti.

In addition to informing the public via its Medwatch Alert, the FDA said, “We are requiring the addition of a Warning to the drug labels of injectable corticosteroids to describe these risks.” Injectable corticosteroids include methylprednisolone, hydrocortisone, triamcinolone, betamethasone, and dexamethasone.

The new warning will be a more prominent reminder to doctors that injecting steroids into the epidural space, just outside the spinal cord, has risks. But the warning failed to list all of the possible adverse reactions. Those reactions are named in the fine print of current drug labels, and include: “arachnoiditis, bowel/bladder dysfunction, headache, meningitis, parapareisis/paraplegia, seizures, sensory disturbances.”

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