A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is performed in your lower back, in the lumbar region. During a lumbar puncture, a needle is inserted between two lumbar bones (vertebrae) to remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid. This is the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord to protect them from injury.
A lumbar punctur can help diagnose serious infections, such as meningitis; other disorders of the central nervous system, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome and multiple sclerosis; or cancers of the brain or spinal cord. Sometimes a lumbar punctur is used to inject anesthetic medications or chemotherapy drugs into the cerebrospinal fluid.
Why it’s done
A lumbar puncture may be done to:
Collect cerebrospinal fluid for laboratory analysis
Measure the pressure of your cerebrospinal fluid
Inject spinal anesthetics, chemotherapy drugs or other medications
Inject dye (myelography) or radioactive substances (cisternography) into cerebrospinal fluid to make diagnostic images of the fluid’s flow
Information gathered from a lumbar puncture can help diagnose:
Serious bacterial, fungal and viral infections, including meningitis, encephalitis and syphilis
Bleeding around the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage)
Certain cancers involving the brain or spinal cord
Certain inflammatory conditions of the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis and Guillain-Barre syndrome
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