Spinal Headaches - Overview and Information
What are spinal headaches?
Approximately 30% of people who have a spinal tap (also known as a lumbar puncture) experience such a headache. The procedure requires a puncture in the tough membrane that surrounds the spinal cord in order for a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid to be obtained.
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Women, as well as those prone to headaches, are more likely to suffer this type of headache, and these will occur more often between the ages of 20 and 40.
In a similar procedure called spinal anesthesia, medication is injected into the canal surrounding the cord in order to numb the nerves of the lower body. In either case, if spinal fluid should leak through the puncture site, it creates a decrease in the pressure of the fluid on both the brain and spinal cord. As a result, a spinal headache develops. The risk of a headache is increased with the size of the needle used or if multiple punctures into the membrane are necessary.
Occurring within 12 to 24 hours after the procedures, spinal headaches typically resolve on their own, although if one should last longer, it can be treated. These headaches do vary in intensity, some suffering only mildly, while others are incapacitated. Pain from this headache usually gets worse if you sit or stand, but tends to decrease after lying down.
Spinal headaches are typically accompanied by common symptoms such as dizziness, a stiff neck, and / or nausea. Some suffering these headaches also experience a spinning sensation known as vertigo, blurry vision, a ringing in the ears called tinnitus, or a sensitivity to light. The pain is reported as either dull or throbbing.
A spinal headache has been known to occur up to five days after a procedure is performed. The best way to prevent such an occurrence is a preventative measure. By realizing how serious the procedure can be, you can take it easy afterwards, getting plenty of bed rest for at least 24 hours.
Sometimes, intravenous (administered through veins) fluids can be given if the pain is severe, while at other times, several cups of coffee along with the 24 hour bed rest will do the trick. Be sure to get plenty of liquids before and after a procedure as a means of equalizing the fluid pressure between the brain and the spinal cord.
If the anesthesiologist is aware of what has taken place, he can fix the leak with what is called a blood patch. This patch is created with a drop of the patient's own blood once the procedure is over, by inserting another needle into the same hole just used. The doctor, at this point, takes the drop of blood and injects it into the needle hole which, once the clotting action has taken place, seals it.
Though little is known on the subject, there are people who suffer spontaneous fluid leakage of the spinal cord, which is known as Spontaneous Intracranial Hypotension. The condition can be severe, and patients are quite often misdiagnosed due to its rarity and the fact that few physicians understand the syndrome or symptoms.
A leak of fluid resulting in a spinal headache also might occur during an epidural block (given during labor and / or delivery). Although the anesthesia is actually injected just outside of the membrane that surrounds the spinal cord, a spinal headache may result if the membrane is punctured accidentally in the process.
To learn more about different types of headaches and their remedies, refer to the other related headache articles and pages on this website.
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