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How are spinal taps performed?

My son has been hospitalized with suspected meningitis. The doctor has said he wants to perform a lumbar puncture, which I didn't even think was legal anymore. So my wife and I are pretty upset now ? what exactly is entailed in a lumbar puncture? Are they safe?
Lumbar punctures remain relatively common procedures and are a definite part of the work-up for meningitis. If your child's physician suspects meningitis a lumbar puncture should likely be done to both determine if there is, in fact, meningitis and to determine the specific cause. A lumbar puncture allows doctors to choose the most appropriate therapy to fight the specific bacteria causing meningitis. The procedure itself is relatively simple and can be done at the bedside. The spinal cord is bathed in a column of fluid that is in connection with the fluid that surrounds the brain. However, the spinal cord does not extend all the way to the bottom of column of fluid. The doctors will help position your child by bending his or her legs up and toward the chest so that a large area of separation is created where a needle can enter into the column of fluid without passing near the spinal cord itself. The doctors will then typically clean the area with antiseptic soap, place a sterile drape over the back and inject some local anesthetic like lidocaine to numb the area. A needle is then inserted between the vertebrae into the column of fluid and a small sample is removed. The procedure is relatively safe, but there are certain risks such as bleeding, infection and nerve damage. However, your child’s physician can best discuss the risk and benefits of a lumbar puncture with you.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.

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