Lumbar punctures have been used to diagnose diseases of the brain and spinal cord for more than 100 years. Today, LPs enable Lewy body dementia research. LPs are also routine, safe, and perhaps, less intimidating than you might think.
What is a lumbar puncture?
Commonly known as a spinal tap, an LP is a short procedure during which a thin, hollow needle is inserted between the bones of the lower back. The needle is used to take a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a clear fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord that can reveal brain changes caused by diseases like Lewy body dementia.
The amount of CSF used for LBD research is only about one to two ounces. The brain makes about 12 ounces of CSF every day. After the LP, the brain replaces this small amount of CSF within hours.
Why is a lumbar puncture used for LBD research?
An LP provides a safe and effective way to collect a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) sample. By studying CSF samples, researchers hope to answer important questions about LBD, including how to diagnose it earlier and more accurately. CSF samples may also help us learn how LBD develops.
In LBD research studies, CSF samples are analyzed and stored for future studies. These ongoing clinical trials are critical for finding new LBD treatments, which is the top priority for LBD clinical research.
Is a lumbar puncture safe for those with LBD?
Lumbar punctures have been used safely for more than 100 years – it’s a very low-risk outpatient procedure performed by highly trained specialists.
Prior to the procedure, the doctor will review a person’s medical history and medications to assess potential risks. For people with LBD, there is no evidence that an LP increases confusion. In fact, there is no evidence of any unique risks to people with LBD who have an LP.
Does a lumbar puncture hurt?
A lumbar puncture is usually not painful, since a local anesthetic is applied to the injection spot before the LP begins. Most patients feel nothing except the slight sting of the local anesthetic needle.
Patients are asked to lie on their side with their knees drawn up, to help widen the spaces between the small bones in the spine, making it easier to insert the needle.
Once the needle is inserted, the patient may feel a bit of pressure. Some people feel a slight burning sensation or nerve twinges.
Is a lumbar puncture safe?
An LP has very minimal risks. In part, that’s because the needle is inserted in the lower spine where there is no spinal cord.
Like any procedure that uses a needle, an LP can cause infection or bleeding. But the risk is extremely rare for both. Before a lumbar puncture begins, the area on the back is cleaned and sterilized. Patients with a bleeding disorder or those taking blood thinners may be at an increased risk for bleeding.
Does a lumbar puncture have any side-effects?
A headache following the procedure can occur in 10-15% of those who get a LP due to changes in CSF pressure. Discuss with your physician ways to help reduce possible side-effects.
What happens after a lumbar puncture?
Once an LP is completed, patients are asked to lie flat for 30-60 minutes
For a few hours or even days after an LP, patients may rarely experience headaches, nausea, a fast heart rate, low blood pressure and dizziness. These conditions usually go away on their own after about five days. Your physician will provide after procedure instructions.