Lumbar Puncture in Children: What to Expect at Home

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Your Child's Recovery

Lumbar puncture or spinal tap

A lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap) is a test to check the fluid that surrounds and protects your child's spinal cord and brain. Your doctor may have done this test to look for an infection. In some cases, it's done to release pressure from too much fluid. Or it may be done to look for certain diseases.

Your child may feel tired. His or her back may be sore where the needle went in. (This is called the puncture site.) Your child may have a mild headache for a day or two. This can happen when some of the spinal fluid is taken out. Some children also have trouble sleeping for a day or two.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for your child at home?

Activity

  • Your doctor may tell your child to lie flat in bed for 1 to 4 hours after the procedure. This may prevent a headache.
  • Have your child rest when he or she feels tired.

Diet

  • Make sure your child drinks extra fluids after the procedure. This will help prevent a headache or make it less severe.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart his or her medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think the pain medicine is making your child sick to his or her stomach:
    • Have your child take the medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a new or higher fever.
  • Your child has a new or worse stiff neck.
  • Your child has a severe headache.
  • Your child has any drainage or bleeding from the puncture site.
  • Your child feels numb or loses strength in his or her legs.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child still has a headache or sore back 2 days after the procedure.
  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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