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At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, we believe parents and guardians can contribute to the success of this test and invite you to participate. Please read the following information to learn about the test and how you can help.
A lumbar puncture is sometimes called a spinal tap because it removes a small amount of the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. This fluid, called cerebrospinal (sir-REEB-bro-SPY-nool) fluid or CSF then is examined by a specialist to diagnose or rule out certain illnesses and conditions.
A lumbar puncture might also be done to measure the amount of pressure in the spinal canal, to place medicine in the CSF and to remove some excess fluid in babies who have a condition called hydrocephalus (hi-dro-SEF-a-lus).
First, the doctor will numb the skin at the base of the spine where the needle will go using either a cream or a shot. The numbing is done so that when the test begins, your child will feel a little pressure, but not sharp pain. Then a small special needle will be used to remove the fluid. The doctor inserts the needle near the base of the spine but the needle does not enter the spinal cord or nerves.
Usually, no special home preparation is needed before a lumbar puncture. Occasionally, however, the lumbar puncture may be done while your child is under sedation, meaning that your child will be given medication to make him or her very drowsy and relaxed during the test.
When sedation is needed, there are important rules for eating and drinking that must be followed in the hours before the test. Following are the usual instructions given for eating and drinking. No matter what age your child is, you should follow the specific instructions given to you by the doctor or nurse.
For children older than 12 months:
For infants under 12 months:
For all children:
Before your child has a lumbar puncture, tell the doctor if your child:
To begin the lumbar puncture, your child will be asked to get into one of two positions. Your child might be asked lie on his or her side on a table and to curl up in a tight ball, or he or she might be asked to lean over the table.
We welcome your help and support during this test. One parent or guardian is invited to stay with your child during the test. Other adults and children must stay in the waiting area. If your child will be having sedation, you will be asked as the parent or legal guardian to sign a consent form before the sedation is given.
If your child has any special needs or health issues you feel the doctor or assistant performing the test needs to know about, please call the Division of Neurology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh before the test and ask to speak with a nurse. It is important to notify us in advance about any special needs.
Division of Pediatric Neurology
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
One Children’s Hospital Drive
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In addition to the main hospital, Children's has many convenient locations in other neighborhoods throughout the greater Pittsburgh region.
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Interested in giving to Children's Hospital? Visit Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation's website to make a donation online.