Blood Patch Procedure

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This procedure is done to treat severe spinal headaches caused when an epidural, spinal needle or lumbar puncture accidentally punctures a hole in the outer membrane of the spinal cord causing a leak of spinal fluid. Using image-guided technology, a physician may block the hole by injecting a tiny bit of the patient’s own blood.

Need to Know

Nice to Know
  • Do not eat or drink anything at least eight hours before the procedure
  • If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor beforehand about adjusting or stopping this medication
  • If you have diabetes, ask your primary care doctor about adjusting your insulin dose
  • Tell your technologist about any allergies, especially to local or general anesthetics and
  • Inform your technologist if you are pregnant
  • You will be asked to wear a gown during this procedure
  • You may feel some discomfort when the blood patch is injected but no serious discomfort
  • You will be asked to lie very still during this procedure

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How Does It Work?

This procedure is similar to a regular epidural or spinal procedure. Using image-guidance to find the hole in your spinal membrane, a tiny bit of your own blood will be injected to fill the hole. Once the hole is blocked, most patients find immediate relief of the spinal headache.

What Happens — Before, During, and After?

When you arrive for your procedure, the nurse will greet you and let the team know that you have arrived. You will be taken into the exam room and asked to change into a gown. You will be asked to lie on your stomach on the exam table.

Using image-guided technology – either x-rays or CT scans – your doctor will pinpoint where the injection should be made. Your skin will be sterilized and then your physician will numb your back with a local anesthetic. You will feel a tiny pinch as the anesthesia is injected.

Once the area is numb, you doctor will use imaging guidance to give the injection and place the blood patch over the leak.

When the procedure is finished, you will be moved into a chair or bed and allowed to rest until you are ready to leave. Most patients feel immediate relief of the headaches.

Once the procedure is complete, your doctor may put a small bandage on the site. You may be instructed to limit strenuous activity for a period of time (usually 24-hours) after the procedure. You will likely be able to return to normal activities after that.

You may feel slight discomfort or bruising after the procedure. In most cases this can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication. Please talk to your physician about any discomfort you may be experiencing after the procedure.

Your doctor will talk to you briefly after the procedure about any possible follow-up appointments you may need.

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How Should I Prepare?

There are things you can do to make your experience more comfortable, and many of these will depend on your individual preferences. For example, you may want to arrange to have someone drop you off and pick you up. You might like to keep a list of questions or — as you’re doing now — educate yourself about the procedure.

Some other things to keep in mind in planning for this procedure include:

  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing to the procedure.
  • The day before the procedure (or the Friday before, if you’re scheduled for a Monday procedure), a nurse from your doctor’s office will call you. The nurse will give you any additional instructions, and will ask if you have any questions.
  • When you arrive, make sure the nurse and radiologist know about any allergies you may have, especially allergies to local anesthetics, such as lidocaine. If there’s any chance you may be pregnant, tell your physician
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What Should I Bring?

On the day of your procedure you should:

  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes
  • Avoid bringing jewelry or valuables
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What Are the Benefits and Risks?

The benefits of an epidural blood patch could be:

  • Relief of spinal headaches
  • Most patients do not report any pain or discomfort during the procedure
  • Recovery time is short and patients can resume their normal activities

Risks you should be aware of include:

  • As with any procedure, there is a slight risk of infection. The chance of infection requiring antibiotic treatment appears to be less than one in 1,000.

Keep in mind that this information is general. Your radiologist is the best source of information about how these risks and benefits may apply to you.

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