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Spinal Tap

Spinal Tap Introduction

  • A spinal tap is a procedure performed when a doctor or health care professional needs to evaluate the cerebrospinal fluid (also known as spinal fluid or CSF). Spinal tap is also referred to as a lumbar puncture, or LP.
  • Some of the reasons your doctor may want to do a spinal tap include the following:
    • To look for infection (bacteria can be found in the spinal fluid)
    • To check to see if there is bleeding around the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage; small amounts of blood will be found in the fluid)
    • To look for causes of unexplained seizures
    • To look for causes of headaches
    • To evaluate for uncommon diagnoses such as multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and several others.
    • To administer certain types of chemotherapeutics medications in the treatment of some cancers
  • Cerebrospinal fluid is a liquid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. An adult has about 140 mL (just under 5 oz) of spinal fluid. Typically, an adult makes 30-100 mL of spinal fluid daily.
  • A spinal tap can be performed in any person and at any age.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/13/2014
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What Happens During the Spinal Tap?

  • The doctor and possibly a nurse or a technologist will be in the room with you during a spinal tap.
  • Pre-medication may be given to help you relax.
  • You will wear a hospital gown during the test.
  • You will either: Lie on your side with your knees drawn as close to your chest as possible and your chin toward your chest; or lie on your stomach with a small pillow beneath your lower abdomen.
  • After cleaning your back with an antiseptic, sterile cloths will be placed around the area.
  • A local anesthetic (pain-relieving medication) will be injected into the area of your back that the fluid will be drawn from. You may feel a slight burning sensation.
  • When the area is numb, a hollow needle is inserted in the lower back between the two lumbar vertebrae. This sometimes causes pressure.
  • The spinal canal is penetrated, and fluid is collected (the spinal cord is not touched by the needle during the test).
  • The needle is removed after the fluid is removed. The area will be cleaned with an antiseptic and covered with a small bandage.
  • A blood sample may be taken from a vein in your arm and tested, along with the spinal fluid, in the laboratory.

SOURCE: WebMD Medical Reference

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Lumbar Puncture (CSF Examination) »

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was first examined in the 19th century using primitive techniques (eg, sharpened bird quills).

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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