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Lumbar Puncture in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 27, 2022.

What is a lumbar puncture?

A lumbar puncture is a procedure used to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a clear, protective fluid that flows around the brain and inside the spinal canal. A lumbar puncture is usually done to check for an infection, inflammation, bleeding, or other conditions that affect the brain. It may also be done to remove CSF to reduce pressure in the brain.

How do I prepare my child for a lumbar puncture?

  • Depending on your child's age, it may be helpful to explain what to expect during the procedure. Tell your child that his or her skin will be numb to prevent pain from the needle. Explain that there might be some discomfort, but that it should not be painful.
  • Your child may need to have blood tests, x-rays, or other tests. Brain imaging tests, such as CT scan or MRI, may also be done.
  • Tell your child's provider if your child has a blood disorder or has ever had a bleeding problem. Tell the provider if he or she is taking any medicine that may make him or her more likely to bleed. These include aspirin, clot busters, or blood thinners. The provider will have to decide if it is safe for your child to have a lumbar puncture. He or she may have your child stop taking certain blood thinners a few days before the procedure. Do not stop giving your child this medicine unless directed by his or her healthcare provider.
  • Tell your child's healthcare provider if he or she has any allergies. This includes an allergy to a cleansing solution, such as iodine, or any numbing medicine.
  • Do not let your adolescent drive himself or herself home after the procedure.

What will happen during a lumbar puncture?

  • You may be able to stay in the room during the procedure. If your child is an infant or young child, he or she may be held by a healthcare provider during the procedure. This is to make sure that he or she is in the correct position. If your child is older, he or she will be asked to lie on his or her side. Your child's neck will be tucked toward his or her chest and he or she may be given a pillow. If your child is sitting, he or she will need to bend forward with the neck tucked toward the chest. Your child may be given medicine to help him or her relax or become drowsy.
  • Your child's healthcare provider will feel his or her lower spine to find the best place to do the lumbar puncture. Your child may be given one or more shots of numbing medicine under the skin. A needle is inserted between the vertebrae (spine) in your child's lower back. Your child may feel some pushing or discomfort as the needle enters his or her back. It should only last a few seconds. If it does not, the provider may need to remove, reinsert, or change the position of the needle.
  • Your child's healthcare provider may take readings of your child's CSF pressure. This is done by connecting a measuring device to the needle. After the pressure is measured, the device is removed and CSF is allowed to flow out of the needle. Samples of your child's CSF may be taken and placed in sterile bottles. The needle will then be taken out and the area will be covered with a bandage.

What happens after a lumbar puncture?

Your child will need to lie flat in bed until a healthcare provider says it is okay to get up. Help your child tell a healthcare provider if he or she has a headache, back pain, or tingling, numbness, or weakness below the waist.

  • Medicines may be given to relieve pain.
  • Your child may develop a headache during the first few hours after the procedure. The headache may last for several days. It may be mild to severe and may get worse when your child sits or stands. Your child may be asked to drink more liquid than usual after the procedure. Caffeine may be used to treat a post-lumbar puncture headache.

What are the risks of a lumbar puncture?

Your child may have neck or back pain. There may be bleeding, infection, or injury to a disc in your child's spine. Spinal fluid may leak from the puncture site. Your child's nerves or spinal cord may be damaged. Your child is at higher risk if he or she has a blood disorder or is taking certain medicines.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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Further information

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