A lumbar puncture—sometimes referred to as a spinal tap—is a diagnostic procedure to collect spinal fluid. During the procedure, an interventional radiologist places a needle in the spinal canal to collect the fluid for lab work. Lumbar puncture has many uses, but doctors most commonly order lumbar punctures to:

  • Diagnose infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Diagnose central nervous system disorders, such as Guillain-Barré
  • Diagnose cancers of the brain and spine
  • Inject spinal anesthetic or dye for other diagnostic procedures

How to prepare for a lumbar puncture
Because a lumbar puncture is a specialized procedure, special preparation is needed. Please follow these guidelines before your procedure:

  • Drink plenty of clear liquids but no solid food for 4 hours before the procedure.
  • Tell the technologist if you are or may be pregnant. A lumbar puncture is generally not performed during pregnancy because of the potential risk of embryo/fetal injury.
  • Stop taking Coumadin (Warfarin), Plavix (Clopidogrel), Ticlid (Ticlopidine) and Pletal (Cilostazol) with permission from the prescribing physicians for 5 days before your lumbar puncture. If you take Coumadin (Warfarin), a Prothrombin Time (PT) and INR will be obtained here at the clinic before the procedure.
  • Stop low-molecular weight heparin therapy with Lovenox (Enoxaparin), Fragmin (Dalteparin), Normiflo (Ardeparin) or Orgaran (Danaparoid) with permission from the prescribing physician for 24 hours before the lumbar puncture.
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure.
  • Bring a copy of the order for the procedure from your referring physician.

Download the lumbar puncture preparation guide.

What to expect
A lumbar puncture typically takes about 15-20 minutes. Before the procedure, the technologist will cleanse your skin with anesthetic soap. The area will also be numbed with a local anesthetic. To place the needle, the interventional radiologist uses an x-ray; this helps guide the needle accurately into the spinal canal. Then, they remove a small amount of spinal fluid for laboratory analysis.

After your procedure, please following these instructions:

  • Drink plenty of clear liquids – at least 8 ounces every hour on the day of the procedure.
  • Resume a regular diet and any medications you routinely take (including pain medications).
  • Avoid consumption of alcohol for 24 hours.
  • Lie flat with your head slightly elevated for 8 hours.
  • Do not drive the day of your procedure.
  • Do not engage in strenuous work, exercise, physical therapy or lifting for 48 hours.
  • Sometimes, a blood patch may be needed.

Headache is the most common side effect of lumbar punctures and occurs in about 20% of patients. These usually resolve within 2-3 days. Please call your doctor if your headache lasts longer than 2-3 days. One of our board-certified interventional radiologists will review the images and send a report to your physician.

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