Lumbar puncture is a test of the fluid around your spine and brain. This fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). It provides protection and nutrition to the brain and nerve cells. CSF also helps to remove waste products from the brain.
Lumbar Puncture Method
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The test is done to look for abnormalities in the spinal fluid. It may be done to help diagnose conditions such as: Brain infection, or infection of the layers around the brainMultiple sclerosis (MS)Any disorder affecting the nervous systemCertain types of cancerBleeding in the brain or spinal cordExcess CSF in the brain
The procedure may also be done to: Administer dye for imaging studiesDrain CSF to lower pressure within the brain
Give medicine directly to the spine such as
If you are planning to have a lumbar puncture, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. Complications may include: HeadacheBackacheBleeding, which can compress the nerve roots or spinal cordPain or abnormal burning, pricking, or tingling sensations in legsAllergic reaction to anestheticInfection
Your doctor may order a
CT scan of the head
before the procedure. A CT scan makes detailed pictures of your brain.
Just before the procedure, your doctor will clean the site where the needle will be inserted.
Local anesthesia will be used most often. It numbs just a small area. The medicine is injected with a needle.
You will lie on your side with your knees drawn up in front. Some punctures may be done while you sit on the edge of the bed. A needle will be inserted into the spinal canal through the lower back. The doctor will take a sample of CSF through the needle.
During the procedure, your doctor will make a note of the pressure of the CSF. If you have discomfort, the needle may need to be repositioned. It may take several minutes to collect the fluid needed. The needle will be removed. A dressing will be placed over the puncture.
You will lie down for 10-15 minutes. In most cases you will be able to go home after the procedure. If you have a severe headache or require immediate treatment, you may need to stay longer.
About 30-45 minutes from setup to completion
Discomfort is minimal to moderate. The anesthetic will sting when first injected.
When you return home after the procedure, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery: Drink extra fluids for the next 24 hours.Rest and remain quiet for at least 24 hours.
Be sure to follow your doctor's
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs: Severe headache or headache lasting for more than 24 hoursNausea or vomitingSigns of infection, including fever and chillsRedness, swelling, increasing pain, bleeding, or discharge from the lumbar puncture siteNumbness, tingling, or pain in your lower back or legsWeakness in your lower legs or difficulty walkingProblems with urination or defecationA stiff neckPain that you cannot control with the medicines you have been given
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Adams RD, Victor M, et al. Disturbances of cerebrospinal fluid and its circulation, including hydrocephalus and meningeal reactions. In: Adams RD, Victor M, Ropper AH. Pinciples of neurology. San Francisco: McGraw-Hill; 1997:623-641.
Last reviewed May 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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