Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android


In experienced hands, lumbar puncture (LP) is usually a safe procedure. Major complications are extremely uncommon but can include cerebral herniation, injury to the spinal cord or nerve roots, hemorrhage (spinal hematoma), or infection. Minor complications occur with greater frequency and can include backache, post-LP headache, and radicular pain or numbness.


Patients with an altered level of consciousness, a focal neurologic deficit, new-onset seizure, papilledema, or an immunocompromised state are at increased risk for potentially fatal cerebellar or tentorial herniation following LP. Neuroimaging should be obtained in these patients prior to LP to exclude a focal mass lesion or diffuse swelling. Imaging studies should include the spine in patients with symptoms suggesting spinal cord compression, such as back pain, leg weakness, urinary retention, or incontinence. In patients with suspected meningitis who require neuroimaging prior to diagnostic LP, administration of antibiotics, preferably following blood culture, should precede the neuroimaging study.

LP should not be performed through infected skin, as organisms can be introduced into the subarachnoid space (SAS).

Patients with coagulation defects including thrombocytopenia are at increased risk of post-LP spinal subdural or epidural hematomas, either of which can produce permanent nerve injury and/or paralysis. If a bleeding disorder is suspected, the platelet count, international normalized ratio (INR), and partial thromboplastin time should be checked prior to LP. There are no data available to assess the safety of LP in patients with low platelet counts; a count of <20,000/μL is considered to be a contraindication to LP. Bleeding complications rarely occur in patients with platelet counts ≥50,000/μL and an INR ≤1.5. Some institutions recommend that the platelet count be >40,000 prior to LP.


There is an increased risk of bleeding complications if an LP is performed in a patient receiving antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications. The risk is further increased when multiple anticoagulant medications are used or when the level of anticoagulation is high. The most common site of bleeding is the epidural space. Symptoms of bleeding following an LP can include a sensory or motor deficit and/or bowel/bladder dysfunction; back pain occurs less commonly. For serious deficits such as paraparesis, immediate surgical intervention, ideally within 8 h of onset of weakness, is important to minimize permanent disability; surgical intervention after 24 h is associated with a poor outcome.

Only limited data are available to guide decisions about performing LPs in patients receiving anticoagulant drugs. Information about managing antiplatelet and anticoagulation drugs during invasive surgical procedures is often available from the prescribing information provided by the drug manufacturer. Evidence-based guidelines for management of regional anesthetic procedures including spinal and epidural blocks in patients receiving anticoagulation have been developed by the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain (ASRA); these guidelines can help guide ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.