There seems to be about thirty percent of patients who have lumbar punctures that experience a headache afterward. Lumbar punctures are also known as spinal taps which is a procedure where a small needle is inserted in the membrane next to the spinal cord in your lower back so cerebrospinal fluid can be drawn out.
When a headache develops, it is usually caused by the spinal fluid leaking out when the needle gets inserted. A headache from the spinal tap is often throbbing, dull, and will get worse when you stand or sit up. Your pain can be mild or range all the way to completely debilitating along with making you dizzy, your ears may ring, your vision may be blurred, or you might see double, and you may have a stiff neck or nausea.
Preventing Spinal Headaches
Most lumbar punctures are executed to be able to diagnose conditions like meningitis which is an infection of the meninges of the brain and other infections of your central nervous system; diseases of the neurological system that might be causing headaches from high pressure, Guillain-Barre’ syndrome, multiple sclerosis, some disorders of your peripheral nerves, or cancers of the brain. Sometimes they are used to give spinal anesthesia for surgery.
To prevent a headache after a spinal tap is for your doctor to utilize what is called an atraumatic needle because it will be less likely to let the spinal fluid leak out. Your brain is floating in spinal fluid all the time, and if a leak occurs it will reduce the volume of what is inside your skull, causing your brain matter to be able to sag inside your skull, and that can trigger your headache.
Treating Spinal Headaches
If you start getting a headache after you have had a spinal tap, let your doctor know as soon as possible so she or he can prescribe an oral painkiller for you. Most of the time, your headache will get better by itself; staying hydrated, resting, and drinking caffeinated drinks will help relieve the pain. If you notice the pain is worse when you sit up or stand, lying down might be the best.
It seems that some people are more likely to have this kind of headache. The group more likely to succumb to this type of a headache includes females, people who have a history of headaches, those in the age group of 30 – 50 years, and people who are thin.
If that headache does not let up, you may benefit from fluids, intravenous caffeine, and bed rest. If it should get worse, a neurologist can perform what is called epidural blood patching. It is a procedure that will require drawing some blood from you, the patient, and injecting it back into your spinal canal in your lower back outside the dura. By placing the patch it will raise the fluid level, and most of the time it will relieve a headache. Sometimes, the doctor might have to repeat this procedure to achieve complete relief.
If that doesn’t get rid of the headache, doctors can use surgical glue and patch the hole from where the spinal fluid is leaking, or they can surgically close the hole with stitches.