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What is a spinal tap, and why is it done?

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD December 16, 2018

Introduction

A spinal tap (lumbar puncture) induces a lot of angst. Although the reason for the procedure should, the procedure itself really shouldn’t.

spinal tap lumbar puncture

What is a spinal tap?

A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is performed to obtain cerebrospinal fluid (CSF – the naturally occurring fluid that bathes the spinal cord) from the spinal column. It most typically evaluates the presence of infection (as in meningitis). However, it can also detect other conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome or cancer involving the spinal cord. In some instances, a lumbar puncture is a treatment. Medicines and anesthetics can be placed in the cerebrospinal fluid via lumbar puncture. Also, it can be used to lower the pressure in the brain caused when too much fluid is present.
Here’s a video that would be helpful to view before you or a family member has a lumbar puncture. It is provided courtesy of Cure Search for Children’s Cancer.

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