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Lumbar Puncture

What is a lumbar puncture?

A lumbar puncture is a procedure used to get a sample of spinal fluid from the area around your spine. It is also used to inject medicine or dye into the area. The term lumbar refers to the lower part of your back, between your tailbone and your ribs. A needle is put into your lower back between the bones of your spine to get the fluid sample or put in medicine or dye. This test is also called a spinal tap.

When is it used?

This procedure is used to:

  • Check for infections, diseases, or other problems that may affect your brain and spinal cord
  • Inject an anesthetic to numb your lower body. This may be done so that you will not feel any pain during childbirth, surgery, or other procedures. This is known as spinal anesthesia, or “a spinal.”
  • Inject drugs to treat cancer or diseases of the nervous system
  • Inject dye for X-rays or a CT scan of the spine

How do I prepare for a lumbar puncture?

Often no preparation is needed unless your healthcare provider gives you special instructions.

  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Some medicines (like aspirin) may increase your risk of bleeding during or after the procedure. Tell your provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Ask your provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Tell your provider if you have any food or medicine allergies.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

A lumber puncture may be done in a clinic, surgery center, or hospital. It usually takes less than 20 minutes.

Before the procedure you may be given medicine to help you relax, but you will usually be awake during the procedure. You will be given a local anesthetic with a small needle to numb the area.

Usually, you will lie on one side with your knees bent and pulled up, with your chin touching your chest. Sometimes your provider will have you lean your head and shoulders forward onto a table or pillow. These positions allows the bones in your spine to spread far enough apart for your healthcare provider to insert a needle into the area where a sample of spinal fluid can be removed or medicine or dye can be injected.

What happens after the procedure?

Usually, you can go home soon after the test. If you were given medicine to help you relax, you will be watched carefully until you are fully awake and alert. This may take 15 minutes to a couple hours.

If you were given dye, drinking a lot of fluids after the procedure helps your body get rid of the dye.

You may have a headache after the procedure. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for things you can do to try to prevent a headache.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have infection or bleeding
  • You may have headaches if fluid leaks from the needle insertion site.
  • Other parts of your body may be injured during the procedure.

Ask your healthcare provider how the risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-25
Last reviewed: 2014-07-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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