Background: Atraumatic needles have been proposed to lower complication rates after lumbar puncture. However, several surveys indicate that clinical adoption of these needles remains poor. We did a systematic review and meta-analysis to compare patient outcomes after lumbar puncture with atraumatic needles and conventional needles. Methods: In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we independently searched 13 databases with no language restrictions from inception to Aug 15, 2017, for randomised controlled trials comparing the use of atraumatic needles and conventional needles for any lumbar puncture indication. Randomised trials comparing atraumatic and conventional needles in which no dural puncture was done (epidural injections) or without a conventional needle control group were excluded. We screened studies and extracted data from published reports independently. The primary outcome of postdural-puncture headache incidence and additional safety and efficacy outcomes were assessed by random-effects and fixed-effects meta-analysis. This study is registered with the International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews, number CRD42016047546. Findings: We identified 20 241 reports; after exclusions, 110 trials done between 1989 and 2017 from 29 countries, including a total of 31 412 participants, were eligible for analysis. The incidence of postdural-puncture headache was significantly reduced from 11·0% (95% CI 9·1–13·3) in the conventional needle group to 4·2% (3·3–5·2) in the atraumatic group (relative risk 0·40, 95% CI 0·34–0·47, p<0·0001; I2=45·4%). Atraumatic needles were also associated with significant reductions in the need for intravenous fluid or controlled analgesia (0·44, 95% CI 0·29–0·64; p<0·0001), need for epidural blood patch (0·50, 0·33–0·75; p=0·001), any headache (0·50, 0·43–0·57; p<0·0001), mild headache (0·52, 0·38–0·70; p<0·0001), severe headache (0·41, 0·28–0·59; p<0·0001), nerve root irritation (0·71, 0·54–0·92; p=0·011), and hearing disturbance (0·25, 0·11–0·60; p=0·002). Success of lumbar puncture on first attempt, failure rate, mean number of attempts, and the incidence of traumatic tap and backache did not differ significantly between the two needle groups. Prespecified subgroup analyses of postdural-puncture headache revealed no interactions between needle type and patient age, sex, use of prophylactic intravenous fluid, needle gauge, patient position, indication for lumbar puncture, bed rest after puncture, or clinician specialty. These results were rated high-quality evidence as examined using the grading of recommendations assessment, development, and evaluation. Interpretation: Among patients who had lumbar puncture, atraumatic needles were associated with a decrease in the incidence of postdural-puncture headache and in the need for patients to return to hospital for additional therapy, and had similar efficacy to conventional needles. These findings offer clinicians and stakeholders a comprehensive assessment and high-quality evidence for the safety and efficacy of atraumatic needles as a superior option for patients who require lumbar puncture. Funding: None.
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