Definition

In this procedure, the doctor samples the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from your lower back. CSF is the fluid the brain and spinal cord sit in. It provides protection and nutrition to the brain and nerve cells. This fluid also helps to remove waste products from the brain.

Lumbar Puncture Method

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Reasons for Procedure

A lumbar puncture may be done when the following conditions are suspected:

  • Brain infection, or infection of the layers around the brain
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Any disorder affecting the nervous system
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Bleeding in the brain or spinal cord
  • Excess CSF in the brain

The procedure may also be done to:

  • Administer dye for imaging studies
  • Drain CSF to lower pressure within the brain
  • Administer medicines (eg, chemotherapy, antibiotics, anesthesia)

Possible Complications

If you are planning to have a lumbar puncture, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Headache
  • Backache
  • Bleeding
  • Pain or abnormal burning, pricking, or tingling sensations in legs
  • Allergic reaction to anesthetic
  • Infection

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Prior to the procedure, your doctor will likely do the following:

  • CT scan of the head—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures
  • Clean the site where the needle will be inserted

Anesthesia

Local anesthesia—just a small area is numbed; given as an injection

Description of Procedure

You will lie on your side with your knees drawn up to your abdomen. Sometimes, the procedure is 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. The pressure of the CSF will be measured. If you have discomfort, the needle may need to be repositioned. It may take several minutes for the doctor to collect all the fluid he needs. Once the doctor is done, the needle will be taken out, and a dressing will be placed.

Immediately After Procedure

You will lie down for 10-15 minutes. Unless you have a severe headache, you will be able to go home.

How Long Will It Take?

About 30-45 minutes from setup to completion

Will It Hurt?

Discomfort is minimal to moderate. The anesthetic will sting when first injected.

Post-procedure Care

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 instructions.

Call Your Doctor

After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Severe headache or headache lasting for more than 24 hours
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, bleeding, or discharge from the lumbar puncture site
  • Numbness, tingling, or pain in your lower back or legs
  • Problems with urination or defecation
  • A stiff neck
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medicines you have been given
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain

In case of an emergency, call 911.