Lumbar Drain

What is a lumbar drain?

The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by a clear, colorless fluid. The name of the fluid is cerebrospinal (ser-REE-bro-spy-nol) fluid. It is called CSF for short. Sometimes it is necessary to drain some CSF. To do this, a narrow tube is inserted in the lower back. Doctors call this part of the back the lumbar (LUM-bar) region. So the tube is called a lumbar drain.

Why do I need a lumbar drain?

A lumbar drain is needed if:

  • CSF leaks from your nose, an ear, or an incision site
  • CSF around your brain increases and puts pressure on your brain

What happens during the procedure?

The nurse will ask you to lie down on your side. Then you will tuck your chin into your chest, and curl your knees up to your stomach. You will be given a shot of medicine that numbs your lower back.

When your back is numb, the doctor will start to insert the lumbar tube. You should not feel any pain, but you may feel pressure against that part of your back. After the tube is in the right place, it will be connected to a drainage bag. The bag lets your doctor and nurse see how much CSF drains out through the tube.

What happens after the procedure?

Your lumbar drain will be placed at a certain height. Your doctor will decide on the best height for your drain. Your nurse will measure with a carpenter’s level to be sure the drain is at the right height.

Your drain must stay at the right height at all times. You must call the nurse when you want to raise or lower the head of your hospital bed. The nurse will re-measure your drain each time you change the position of the head of your bed.

You must call the nurse for help to get out of bed. Before you get out of bed, your nurse must clamp the drain. When you get back into bed, the nurse must re-measure the drain.

You may have a lumbar drain for up to 5 days.

Are there possible problems?

Sometimes other problems can result from a condition or a procedure. These problems are called complications. When you have a lumbar drain, some possible problems are:

  • A severe headache after the drain is inserted
  • Pain in one of your legs after the drain is inserted
  • Pain, redness, or swelling at the tube site
  • Fever or chills 

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