Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)

A lumbar puncture is also called a spinal tap. A lumbar puncture may be used to look for problems in your brain, spinal cord, and related structures.

What is a lumbar puncture?

A needle is used to remove and test cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the sac that contains your spinal cord. The spinal cord runs through most of your spine, and carries messages between your brain and the rest of your body. A lumbar puncture is usually done near the base of your spine, below where the spinal cord has ended. The needle enters the sac but does not touch the spinal cord. There is a risk of transient post-spinal tap headache and nausea because of a CFS leak under the skin, but this risk can be decreased with bedrest and adequate hydration during the first 24 hours post spinal tap. But the benefits of a lumbar puncture far outweigh the risks, and it is essential for diagnosing multiple neurologic conditions.

Before your lumbar puncture

Prepare for your lumbar puncture as instructed. After you check in, you will need to sign a consent form stating that the procedure has been explained to you. If you have questions, be sure to ask them before you sign the form. You may also be asked to put on a hospital gown. Your procedure will take 30 to 60 minutes. But allow extra time to check in.

For your safety and the success of your procedure, tell the doctor or nurse if you:

  • Have any bleeding disorders

  • Take blood thinners or other medicines, including aspirin

  • Have any immune system problems

  • Have had any back surgery

  • Are allergic to medicines or iodine

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