For virtually all infectious and inflammatory diseases of the nervous system a lumbar puncture is essential to identify the cause of disease. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is produced in the ventricles and flows around the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord). In the CSF all sorts of particles and cells, like white blood cells, protect the brain against infection.
During a lumbar puncture a needle is placed between the vertebrae to reach the spinal canal in which the cerebrospinal fluid surrounds the nerves. The nerves will be pushed aside by the needle (comparable to a fork in spaghetti) and can not be damaged. A lumbar puncture can be dangerous when anticoagulants are used (for instance Acenocoumarol, Sintrommitis, and Marcoumar). Ask your physician whether your medication interferes with a lumbar puncture before it is performed. It many be necessary to temporarily discontinue this medication.
A potential complication of the lumbar puncture is persistent leakage of cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal canal. This lead to headache because of the decreased in cerebrospinal fluid pressure. The headache will decrease when you lie down flat. This complication occurs in approximately 2-5% of patients and will usually resolve spontaneously with 24 hours of bed rest. If complaints persist for a longer period then 3 days you should contact the physician that performed the lumbar puncture.
Neurologists and neurology residents perform lumbar punctures several times a week and are highly skilled in doing that. However, it still may happen that a lumbar puncture will not succeed straight away. Before the puncture is performed, your physician will discuss the procedure and potential risks with you.
Link to AMC patient brochure of the lumbar puncture (Dutch):