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The connection between a lumbar puncture and meningitis requires testing the cerebral spinal fluid for signs of infection. If the fluid appears cloudy or shows low glucose levels, it might lead to a diagnosis of meningitis. Indications of meningitis can pinpoint the precise type of infection and aid doctors in prescribing effective medication.
Meningitis might appear as a viral or bacterial infection. Viral meningitis is considered a mild form of the disorder that usually requires no treatment and goes away within two weeks. A lumbar puncture and meningitis diagnosis deemed viral occurs more commonly in children under the age of five.
If cerebral spinal fluid shows a bacterial infection, it could become life-threatening or cause brain damage. Lumbar puncture and meningitis results might spark the need for immediate hospitalization, intravenous fluids, and antibiotics. Without treatment, the brain could swell and cause permanent neurological damage.
Symptoms indicating that a lumbar puncture and meningitis test might be needed include a stiff neck that might cause a severe headache. Some patients also report vomiting, nausea, and a fever. An increased sensitivity to light and mental confusion represent other signs that might require a spinal tap.
Examination of the spinal fluid might include testing protein, glucose, and blood cell counts. The test also measures pressure in the spinal canal and skull. Low pressure might indicate a brain tumor or complications from diabetes.
When glucose levels test low, a viral or bacterial infection might be present. Low glucose levels might also indicate tuberculosis or low blood sugar, a condition called hypoglycemia. High glucose levels typically occur in people suffering from diabetes.
Blood cell counts also help physicians determine if meningitis is present. People with this disease typically show high white blood cell levels in the cerebral spinal fluid. Multiple sclerosis can also be diagnosed using blood cell counts from a spinal tap. If red blood cells are present in the fluid, it might indicate that blood is leaking into the spinal canal or brain.
A lumbar puncture exam involves curling the body into a fetal position to expose the lower part of the back. Some patients prefer to sit up while placing their foreheads on top of their knees for the test. Anesthesia numbs the area before a long, thin needle is inserted to extract spinal fluid. The patient must remain still for the half-hour procedure to prevent damage to nerves.
The most common side effect after the test is headache. Patients are typically told to remain flat on their backs for a few hours after lumbar puncture to lessen the chance of headache. The human body continuously produces cerebral spinal fluid, so the small amount extracted is replaced naturally within a short time.