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June 25, 2018  
EDUCATION CENTER: Diagnostics
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  • Spinal Tap


    Overview:
    Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is extracted to diagnose various neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis, leukemia, meningitis, Gullain-Barre, brain tumors, infections and abcesses. If meningitis is suspected as the cause of a cerebral abscess, a spinal tap might be used to analyze CSF, but this could be dangerous if a mass lesion is already present.

    Detailed Information:
    Reviewed by Joseph Maloney, M.D. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the fluid that bathes the brain and runs around the outside of the brain and spinal cord, is extracted to diagnose various neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis, leukemia, meningitis, Gullain-Barre, brain tumors, infections and abcesses. If meningitis is suspected as the cause of a cerebral abscess, a spinal tap might be used to analyze CSF, but this could be dangerous if a mass lesion is already present. The procedure for the spinal tap is rather involved. The patient will first have a CT scan to measure pressure within the skull. High pressure can be a result of a brain tumor or abcess. During the spinal tap itself, the patient lies on her side with her back to the doctor. The knees are pulled to the chest and the chin is tucked in. This opens spaces between the vertebrae, enabling the doctor to insert the needle more easily. Withdrawal of fluid takes about five minutes, but the entire procedure takes about a half an hour.

    It may be uncomfortable to stay in the curled position for a prolonged period of time. The insertion of the needle also will cause a few seconds of pain as the needle passes through the meninges. Overall, however, the curled position should keep the pain at a minimal to moderate level. Less than one percent of patients experience severe headache following the procedure.

    The doctor can make some conclusions based on the appearance of the fluid as soon as it is extracted. Blood or a yellowish color in the fluid may indicate bleeding in the brain or spinal cord, or spinal cord obstruction. High pressure may also indicate bleeding, and it may indicate a tumor. The fluid is then analyzed in a lab for antibodies, blood, bacteria, cancer cells, and excess protein or white blood cells in order to make diagnoses.

    The spinal tap is also known as a lumbar puncture.



    Related Conditions:

  • Brain Cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Multiple Sclerosis


    Last updated: 07-May-07

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