Are lumbar punctures really necessary?Aren't they painful?

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besure77's profile pic

besure77 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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A lumbar puncture is more commonly known as a spinal tap. Spinal taps are done to evaluate the spinal cord fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). They are performed for various reasons. For example, when it is suspected that a person has meningitis, a spinal tap will be performed in order to find out if the fluid is indeed infected. In a case like this, a lumbar puncture is necessary so that the patient can be given proper treatment. Other reasons that people may have spinal taps performed is to check for cancer or see if certain diseases such as MS are present. In addition, spinal taps are sometimes performed in order to inject anesthetics. For example, I had a lumbar puncture when I delivered one of my children via c-section. Before they inserted the needle into my spine, I was given injections around the site first to numb the area. It was not very painful but I did feel quite a bit of pressure.

dano7744's profile pic

dano7744 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Unfortunately some medical procedures are very painful but also very necessary. As far as an LP (lumbar puncture, old term/spinal tap) goes they can be quite uncomfortable. There are a couple of reasons an LP would be performed but the most common reason is to rule out (R/O) meningitis. Meningitis may have a viral or bacterial etiology. Generally, viral meningitis is not fatal. However, bacterial meningitis can be rapidly fatal. As a matter of fact, death may come as early as 12-24 hours after the very first signs and symptoms. This is why the LP must be done if meningitis is suspected.

There is not an alternative test for meningitis, in other words why cant they just do a simple blood test? Because one doesn't exist.

A lumbar puncture is a sterile procedure in which a spinal needle is inserted into the subarachnoid space at the level of L4 (right above or right below) to obtain a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The CSF is then analyzed in the medical laboratory to determine if the patient has meningitis. Time is of the essence because if the patient does in fact have meningitis, treatment can be initiated quickly.

Common signs and symptoms of meningitis are severe headache, stiff neck (nuchal rigidity), fever, and nausea/vomiting.

krishna-agrawala's profile pic

krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Lumbar puncture, also called spinal tap, is a medical procedure in which a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds the entire surface of the brain and the spinal cord, is withdrawn by inserting a hypodermic needle in the spinal canal. Such sample is used to diagnose many disease including meningitis. Lumbar puncture may also be used to inject medications in to the cerebrospinal fluid. This precedure has been used by medical practioners for more than 100 years, and for may medical treatments it is still the best available option.

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