A spinal tap is also known as a lumbar puncture. A spinal tap is a test in which a sample of the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) is taken to diagnose suspected diseases like multiple sclerosis. CSF is a colorless fluid that helps in delivering nutrients to the spinal cord and brain. CSF also protects the brain and spinal cord from any external injury. A spinal tap test is performed on the lower back. In the spinal tap test, a sample of CSF is taken from between the bones of the lower spine by inserting needles.
Before performing a lumbar puncture, the doctors check whether the patient is allergic to any medications. The spinal tap test requires 30 minutes to complete including the preparation time. The spinal tap test is a safe procedure and has minimal risks. These risks may include headache, allergic reaction to the anesthetic, backache, infection, or tiredness and pain or tenderness in the lower back. However, the complication of bleeding is uncommon in a lumbar puncture.
Why is a spinal tap test done?
A lumbar puncture is performed to measure the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid. The fluid may also be collected for laboratory analysis. A lumbar puncture may also be done to inject chemotherapy drugs or other medication. A lumbar puncture can be performed to diagnose bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. Other conditions in which a spinal tap may be performed include:
- Bleeding in the spinal cord or brain
- Disorder affecting nervous system
- Infection in brain
- Excessive amount of CSF in the brain
- Some types of cancers
What are the benefits of a lumbar puncture?
A lumbar puncture test can help diagnose serious infections like meningitis and diagnose disorders that may affect the nervous system like multiple sclerosis. Doctors sometimes use a lumbar puncture test to inject anesthetic medications to the CSF. A CSF test may be performed to inject dye in the CSF to make diagnostic images of the flow of CSF.
Results of the lumbar puncture test are available in 30 to 60 minutes. However, to identify a specific bacterial growth in the fluid sample (a rare occurrence), results may be available only after 48 hours. Spinal tap test or CSF test is performed for the following reasons:
- To detect diseases like multiple sclerosis
- To detect bleeding in the brain
- To detect signs of infection in the CSF
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