What you should know
Lumbar puncture (LP) is a procedure in which a needle is inserted in your back and into your spinal canal. This is usually done to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to check for an infection, inflammation, bleeding, or other conditions that affect the brain. CSF is a clear, protective fluid that flows around the brain and inside the spinal canal. LP may also be done to remove CSF to reduce pressure in the brain.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
You may have a headache that gets worse when you sit or stand. You may also have neck or back pain. There may be bleeding, infection, or injury to a disk in your spine. Spinal fluid may leak from the puncture site. Your nerves or spinal cord may be damaged. Patients who have blood disorders or who are taking certain medicines are at a higher risk for problems.
Before your procedure:
- Write down the correct date, time, and location of your procedure.
- You may need to have blood tests, x-rays, or other tests. Brain imaging tests, such as CT scan or MRI, may also be done. Ask your caregiver for more information about these and other tests that you may need. Write down the date, time, and location of each test.
- Tell your caregiver if you are taking any medicine that may make you more likely to bleed. These include aspirin, clot busters, or blood thinners. If you are taking any of these medicines, you should not have a lumbar puncture.
- Tell your caregiver if you have any allergies. This includes an allergy to a cleansing solution, such as iodine, or any numbing medicine.
- Tell your caregiver if you have a blood disorder or have had a bleeding problem in the past.
- Ask a family member or friend to drive you home after your procedure. Do not drive yourself home.
- You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal piece of paper (consent form). It gives your caregiver permission to do the procedure. Before giving your consent, make sure all your questions have been answered so that you understand what may happen.
What will happen:
- You will be asked to lie on your side or to sit up. If you are on your side, your knees will need to be bent and drawn close to your chest. Your neck should be tucked toward your chest. If you are sitting, you will need to bend forward with your neck tucked toward your chest. You may be given medicine to help you relax or make you drowsy. Your lower back will be cleaned, and you may be given one or more shots of numbing medicine. A needle will be inserted between the vertebrae (spine) of the lower back. You may feel some pushing or discomfort as the needle enters your back.
- Tell your caregiver if you have pain that does not stop within a few seconds. Your caregiver may need to pull out, reinsert, or change the position of the needle. Your caregiver may take readings of your CSF pressure. This will be done by connecting a measuring device to the needle. After the pressure is measured, the device will be removed to allow CSF to flow out of the needle. Samples of your CSF may be taken. The needle will then be taken out and a bandage placed over the area.
After your procedure:
You will need to lie flat in bed until your caregiver says it is okay to get up. When caregivers see that you are okay, you may be allowed to go home. If caregivers want you to stay in the hospital, you will be taken back to your hospital room. You may need to drink more liquids than usual after the LP, or you may need fluids through an IV.
Contact a caregiver if
- You cannot make it to your appointment on time.
- You have a skin infection or a wound near the area where the LP will be done.
- Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.
- You have questions or concerns about your procedure.
Seek Care Immediately if
- You have a fever.
- You have shortness of breath or your heart is beating faster than normal.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.