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Lumbar Puncture

What is a lumbar puncture?

A lumbar puncture or a spinal tap is a sterile procedure to collect the fluid surrounding the brain and spine, called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), for testing. Sometimes medicines, such as chemotherapy, are injected into the spinal fluid during a lumbar puncture.

Other reasons your child may have a lumbar puncture include:

  • To look for infection
  • To check for bleeding around the brain
  • To look for causes of unexplained seizures
  • To look for causes of headaches

How is it done?

A needle is carefully inserted in between two vertebrae (back bones) in the child's lower back (lumbar area) into the spinal canal. Depending on your child's age and needs, sedation or other medicines may be given before or during the procedure to help your child stay still and calm.

Positioning

There are two ways in which a child is usually positioned for a lumbar puncture: side-lying or sitting. These positions help widen the space between the vertebrae.

What do I need to know to care for my child?

  • After the procedure is complete and your child is awake (if sedation medications were given), your child may get up and move.
  • Your child may have a headache in the first 24 hours after a lumbar puncture. Caffeine may help this type of headache so talk with your nurse or provider.
  • Minor bleeding may occur at the puncture site, which should stop a few minutes after the procedure.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting may occur.

When should I call the doctor?

Call your doctor or clinic if your child has any of the following:

  • Headache lasting longer than 24 hours or headache that is severe
  • Temperature of 101.5° F (38.5° Celsius) or higher
  • Constant drainage, swelling, warmth or redness at the puncture site
  • Uncontrollable nausea or vomiting
  • Increased pain or changes in sensation

Questions?

This sheet is not specific to your child, but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call the clinic.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
2525 Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Last reviewed 8/2015 © Copyright

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Family Resource Center library, or visit www.childrensmn.org/educationmaterials.

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