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Rev Bras Anestesiol. 2010 Jan-Feb;60(1):13-9.

Use of the ultrasound to determine the level of lumbar puncture in pregnant women.

[Article in English, Portuguese]

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Maternidade Carmela Dutra, Hospital Universitário, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina.



An imaginary line connecting both iliac crests is used to determine the vertebral level for lumbar puncture. This line crosses the spine at the level of L4 or the L4-L5 space. This anatomical reference can be inaccurate in a large proportion of patients. The objective of the present study was to determine whether the identification of the L3-L4 space by the physical exam differs from that of the ultrasound in obese and non-obese pregnant women.


Adult patients undergoing elective cesarean sections under spinal block participated in this study. Patients were divided in two groups: obese and non-obese. The L3-L4 space was determined by physical exam with the patient in the sitting position. This was followed by a lumbar ultrasound. After the sacrum was identified, the transducer was directed in the cephalad direction to identify the spinous processes of the lumbar vertebrae. The clinically estimated L3-L4 level was recorded.


Ninety patients, 43 obese and 47 non-obese, were included in this study. Lumbar intervertebral spaces were identified by ultrasound in all patients. The L3-L4 space clinically identified corresponded to the ultrasound identification in 53% and 49% of the cases in the non-obese and obese groups, respectively. There was no significant difference between groups.


The L3-L4 space is correctly identified in a low percentage of obese and non-obese pregnant women. Spinal ultrasound can reduce the incidence of mistaken identification of the L3-L4 space in obese and non-obese pregnant women.

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