A lumbar puncture is used to help diagnose serious conditions such as meningitis, disorders of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, pseudotumor cerebri, which may cause severe headaches, and cancers of the brain or spinal cord.
During the procedure a needle is inserted between two lumbar vertebrae to remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid – the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord to protect them from injury.
Post-lumbar puncture headache
- About 40% of people who have undergone a lumbar puncture develop a headache afterward due to a leak of fluid into nearby tissues. The headache typically starts several hours up to two days after the procedure and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and dizziness. The post-lumbar puncture headache can last days to weeks, and if it is truly debilitating, can be treated by a separate procedure called an epidural blood patch.
- You may feel pain or tenderness in your lower back after the procedure. This should be very short lived, and can be treated with over the counter medication, heat and ice. Tell your doctor if you have a history of back pain or previous back surgery.
- A small amount of bleeding may occur at the puncture site, and very rarely into the epidural space. Tell your doctor if you are taking any blood thinners.
- An extremely rare complication of a lumbar puncture is brainstem herniation after a sample of spinal fluid is removed. This occurs if there is increased pressure within the skull due to a brain tumor or other space occupying lesion. A CT or an MRI should be performed before a lumbar puncture is performed.