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Adverse Effects and Contraindications of Lumbar Puncture

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 6/30/2009

Lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap) is a diagnostic test that is performed on a regular basis. However, there are some risks. Learn about the adverse effects and contraindications of lumbar puncture so you can make an informed decision about having this test done.

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    What is lumbar puncture?

    During a lumbar puncture, a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid is removed from the spinal canal. In order to do this, a hollow needle is inserted into the lower back and the fluid is collected in a tube and sent to the laboratory for analysis. This test can be used to determine if a patient has meningitis or encaphalitis, an inflammatory nerve disorder, or some types of cancer that affect the brain and spinal cord. The pressure in the cerebrospinal fluid can also be measured during the test. In order to perform this procedure, the patient is positioned properly and the lower back is cleansed thoroughly. Local anesthetic is used to reduce the amount of discomfort the patient experiences. A needle is inserted into the spinal canal and the cerebrospinal fluid is collected for analysis.

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    Contraindications

    If the skin of the patient's back is infected over where the needle needs to be placed to collect cerebrospinal fluid, the lumbar puncture should not be done. This could result in more serious infection that could have fatal consequences. If a brain CT scan is performed before the lumbar puncture, some findings will contraindicate a lumbar puncture. Patients should have a brain scan before a lumbar puncture if they have immune deficiencies, are older than 60, have had seizures or loss of consciousness within one week of the scheduled test, or have neurological deficits upon physical examination.

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    Adverse Effects

    The possible side effects of a lumbar puncture range from moderate to severe. Headache is the most common side effect, but infection may also be introduced into the body through the puncture site. If the spinal cord or spinal nerve roots get damaged during the procedure, the patient could lose sensation, experience weakness, or even become paralyzed from the waist down. The possibility of adverse effects can be minimized by following all instructions for post-procedure care.

    Now that you know the adverse effects and contraindications of lumbar puncture, you can decide if it is a test that you want to have performed on yourself or a loved one.

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    References

    eMedicine from WebMD. "Lumbar Puncture." Accessed 29 June 2009.

    UCL Institute of Child Health. "Lumbar Puncture." Accessed 29 June 2009.

    DoctorsLounge. "Lumbar Puncture." Accessed 29 June 2009.