Lumbar Puncture (or Spinal Tap)

What is the test?

A lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap, uses a needle to remove a sample of fluid from the space surrounding the spinal cord. This fluid is known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The test is used to diagnose infections, such as meningitis, and some neurological conditions.

How do I prepare for the test?

You will need to sign a consent form, which is generally required when the procedure is done outside of an emergency situation. Tell your doctor ahead of time if you have ever had an allergic reaction to lidocaine or the numbing medicine used at the dentist's office.

Doctors routinely do a physical examination and in some cases order a CT scan of the brain before recommending a lumbar puncture. The CT scan is performed when doctors suspect a medical problem that could put you at risk for movement of the brain during the procedure, a very rare but serious complication.

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