Information for patients
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Your child has been admitted to the Paediatric unit. The doctor caring for your child has requested a lumbar puncture to try to find the cause of your child’s illness. This will help them to plan your child’s treatment and care.
What is a lumbar puncture?
A lumbar puncture is a medical procedure, carried out to obtain a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a watery liquid that surrounds your child’s brain and spinal cord acting as a cushion.
Why does my child need a lumbar puncture?
A lumbar puncture is normally carried out for one or more of the following reasons:
- To detect possible infection in the CSF.
- To measure the pressure in the CSF.
- To measure the levels of chemicals in the CSF.
The reason your child is having a lumbar puncture will be explained by the doctors looking after your child.
Are there any risks or possible side effects?
Risks associated with a lumbar puncture are reduced by the medical and nursing team completing the correct procedure. This includes checking that your child has no risk factors including a sudden rise in pressure in the brain or an abnormality in the way in which your child’s blood clots. Precautions to prevent any infection entering your child’s body will also be taken.
Your child’s spinal cord cannot be injured by a lumbar puncture as the needle enters the spine below the lower end of the spinal cord.
Your child’s body replaces the small amount of fluid that is removed very quickly (in less than 2 days).
There are very few side effects from a lumbar puncture but sometimes one of the following can happen:
- If a small amount of bleeding happens when the lumbar puncture is carried out, some of the blood may become mixed with the CSF. This can affect the results of the test.
- Your child may have a headache. This is due to the slight reduction in pressure around your child’s brain. This normally settles in 24 to 48 hours.
- Vomiting can also occur after a lumbar puncture.
How is a lumbar puncture carried out?
About 1 hour before the lumbar puncture, a local anaesthetic cream which will numb a small area on your child’s back may be applied and covered with a clear dressing.
Depending on your child’s medical needs and age they may also be given medication to make them sleepy (a mild sedative).
The procedure will be carried out on the ward. Your child will need to lie curled up on their side. They will be held firmly but gently to make sure that they do not move. It will take about 10 to 15 minutes.
A doctor will clean your child’s lower back and then feel their lower back to find the correct space between the vertebrae (the bones of the spine).
The doctor will then insert a special hollow needle through the skin of your child’s lower back into the space and the CSF will be collected into special containers. These containers will then be sent to the laboratory for examination and testing.
The doctor will remove the needle and place a small plaster on your child’s back.
Will this procedure need to be repeated?
It may not be possible to get your child into the correct position for the lumbar puncture. If this happens the procedure will need to be repeated.
Sometimes it is not easy for the doctor to find the place where the needle should be inserted. Another doctor may be called to help. In some cases lumbar punctures are unsuccessful.
When will we get the results?
The CSF samples are checked in the Trust laboratories. Some of the test results will be available after 1 to 2 hours but others may take longer to come back. Your child’s doctor and nurse will explain this to you.
Please speak to the medical and nursing team if you have any questions and they will be able to offer further support.
University Hospital of North Tees
Telephone: 01642 382815
24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Further information is available from:
Telephone: 111 (when it is less urgent than 999)
Calls to this number are free from landlines and mobile phones
OR via the website at www.nhs.uk
Comments, concerns, compliments or complaints
Patient Experience Team (PET)
We are continually trying to improve the services we provide. We want to know what we’re doing well or if there’s anything which we can improve, that’s why the Patient Experience Team (PET) is here to help. Our Patient Experience Team is here to try to resolve your concerns as quickly as possible. The office is based on the ground floor at the University Hospital of North Tees if you wish to discuss concerns in person. If you would like to contact or request a copy of our PET leaflet, please contact:
Telephone: 01642 624719
Freephone: 0800 092 0084
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 4:00pm
Email: [email protected]
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Telephone: 01642 617617
Data protection and use of patient information
The Trust has developed Data Protection policies in accordance with Data Protection Legislation (UK General Data Protection Regulations and Data Protection Act 2018) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. All of our staff respect these policies and confidentiality is adhered to at all times. If you require further information on how we process your information please see our Privacy Notices.
Telephone: 01642 383551
Email: [email protected]Privacy Notices
This leaflet has been produced in partnership with patients and carers. All patient leaflets are regularly reviewed, and any suggestions you have as to how it may be improved are extremely valuable. Please write to the Clinical Governance team, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospital of North Tees, TS19 8PE or:
Email: [email protected]
Leaflet reference: PIL1172
Date for Review: 23 January 2027