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Spinal Tap - Lumbar puncture

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2014

Depending on your particular migraine symptoms, your migraine doctor may recommend a spinal tap, which is also called a lumbar puncture. This test, like other tests conducted on migraine sufferers will not prove you have migraines. However, it may help in the migraine diagnosis by ruling out other disorders which share the same symptoms.

One 2005 European study conducted lumbar punctures for patients who came to the emergency room complaining of the worst head pain they’ve ever experienced. The lumbar puncture - spinal tap was performed after a CT scan, CAT scan found nothing that would cause the pain. The lumbar puncture in this study was used to detect cases of subarachnoid haemorrhage, bleeding in the brain.

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Why get a spinal tap/lumbar puncture?

A spinal tap/lumbar puncture can detect:

  • Infections such as meningitis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome or other disorders of the nervous system
  • Bleeding in the brain or spinal cord

What to expect during a spinal tap/lumbar puncture

Your doctor may tell you to stop taking certain medications, particularly blood thinners, before this procedure. You will also be asked to avoid alcohol for 24 hours before you undergo the spinal tap/lumbar puncture. During the procedure a needle is inserted into the spinal cord to remove a bit of fluid for testing. By examining the fluid, which circulates throughout the spinal cord and brain, the doctor can look at the number of white blood cells circulating, determine glucose and certain protein levels. The doctor might also detect abnormal cells, fungus or bacteria. This procedure is also used to insert anesthesia, pain medicine and to deliver certain types of antibiotics or cancer drugs. You will need to arrange for someone else to take you home from the procedure, since driving is not recommended following the spinal tap - lumbar puncture.