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    Diagnosing Migraines & Headaches With a Spinal Tap

    The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by fluid, called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which protects them from injury, circulates nutrients, and removes waste from the brain. In a spinal tap, also called lumbar puncture, a doctor removes some of that fluid and sends it to a lab for testing.

    The test can help doctors diagnose disorders that may involve the brain, spinal cord, or their coverings (meninges). If you have headaches or migraines, your doctor may use a spinal tap to look for signs of infection, bleeding in the brain, to measure the pressure around your brain, or other things that could be causing your pain.

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    What Should I Do Before a Spinal Tap?

    • Tell your doctor about any medications you take, including over-the counter and prescription drugs. Also tell your doctor if you're allergic to any medicine. Do not stop taking your medications without talking with your primary doctor and the doctor who orders the spinal tap.
    • Tell your doctor if you're pregnant (or think you might be), or if you have diabetes.
    • Do not take any blood thinners -- like clopidogrel (Plavix), dipyridamole (Persantine), or warfarin (Coumadin) -- within 72 hours before the test.
    • Do not take aspirin or any products that have it within 1 week before the test.
    • Ask your doctor about alcohol use before the test. Generally, you should not drink any beer, wine, or liquor for at least 24 hours beforehand.
    • Make arrangements for someone to take you home when it’s over. You should not drive right after the test.
    • Do not bring valuables such as jewelry or credit cards.
    • You'll need to give verbal and written consent for the spinal tap. Be sure to ask your doctor any questions you may have before you give consent. For example, you may want to know about the steps of the procedure and its risks and benefits.

    If you have diabetes:

    • Take your usual dose of insulin and eat a light breakfast on the morning of your test.
    • When you arrive for the test, be sure to remind the doctor that you have diabetes.

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