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Migraines & Headaches Health Center

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Diagnosing Migraines and Headaches With a Spinal Tap

Can I Eat Before a Spinal Tap?

You may eat a light breakfast the morning of the test.

What Happens During the Spinal Tap?

  • The doctor and possibly a nurse or a technologist will be in the room with you during a spinal tap.
  • Pre-medication may be given to help you relax.
  • You will wear a hospital gown during the test.
  • You will either: Lie on your side with your knees drawn as close to your chest as possible and your chin toward your chest; or lie on your stomach with a small pillow beneath your lower abdomen.
  • After cleaning your back with an antiseptic, sterile cloths will be placed around the area.
  • A local anesthetic (pain-relieving medication) will be injected into the area of your back that the fluid will be drawn from. You may feel a slight burning sensation.
  • When the area is numb, a hollow needle is inserted in the lower back between the two lumbar vertebrae. This sometimes causes pressure.
  • The spinal canal is penetrated, and fluid is collected (the spinal cord is not touched by the needle during the test).
  • The needle is removed after the fluid is removed. The area will be cleaned with an antiseptic and covered with a small bandage.
  • A blood sample may be taken from a vein in your arm and tested in the lab as well.

What Happens After a Spinal Tap?

  • After a spinal tap, you will lie on your back or stomach for about an hour.
  • You will be monitored for a few hours. At that time, the nurse will discuss post-procedure instructions with you.
  • You may feel some discomfort or have a headache (1 in 4 people who have this test experience a headache afterward).
  • The results of your study will be discussed with your referring doctor within 24-hours.

For the first 24-hours after a spinal tap:

  • Remain flat on your back as much as possible. This will help relieve headache pain.
  • Drink at least 2 1/2 quarts of fluid.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on July 27, 2014
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