Also known as a spinal tap, a lumbar puncture is a diagnostic procedure that involves removing a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the spine to analyze it and help detect or rule out conditions such as meningitis, encephalitis, multiple sclerosis and certain cancers.
During the spinal tap procedure, you will lie on your side while a needle is inserted into the spinal canal to measure its internal pressure and carefully remove a small sample of fluid to be analyzed. A blood sample will also be removed from the arm and tested with the spinal fluid. This procedure usually takes about 45 minutes and is performed with a local anesthetic to minimize discomfort.
Once the CSF has been removed, it is examined for a number of different factors in order to accurately diagnose the patient’s condition. Lab technicians analyze the fluid for:
- General appearance
- White blood cell levels
- Protein levels
- Glucose levels
- Bacteria and fungi
After the spinal tap procedure, some patients may experience a spinal headache, bloody discharge or infection as a result of the needle injection. You may be instructed to lie flat for some time after the procedure, and avoid exercise and other strenuous activity for the first day after the spinal tap. The results of this test will be available within a few days. Your doctor will decide upon the best treatment option for you after evaluating the results of your procedure.