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Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Analysis: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Analysis: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

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What is a Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Analysis?

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a clear, colorless liquid found in your brain and spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord make up your central nervous system. Your central nervous system controls and coordinates everything you do including, muscle movement, organ function, and even complex thinking and planning. CSF helps protect this system by acting like a cushion against sudden impact or injury to the brain or spinal cord. CSF also removes waste products from the brain and helps your central nervous system work properly.

A CSF analysis is a group of tests that look at your cerebrospinal fluid to help diagnose diseases and conditions that affect the brain and spinal cord.

Other names: Spinal Fluid Analysis, CSF Analysis

What is it used for?

A CSF analysis may include tests to diagnose:

  • Infectious diseases of the brain and spinal cord, including meningitis and encephalitis. CSF tests for infections look at white blood cells, bacteria, and other substances in the cerebrospinal fluid
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome and multiple sclerosis (MS). CSF tests for these disorders look for high levels of certain proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid. These tests are called albumin protein and igG/albumin.
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Brain tumors

Why do I need a CSF analysis?

You may need a CSF analysis if you have symptoms of an infection of the brain or spinal cord, or of an autoimmune disorder, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

Symptoms of a brain or spinal cord infection include:

Symptoms of MS include:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Tingling in the arms, legs, or face
  • Muscle spasms
  • Weak muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Bladder control problems

Symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome include weakness and tingling in the legs, arms, and upper body.

You may also need a CSF analysis if you’ve had an injury to your brain or spinal cord, or have been diagnosed with cancer that has spread to the brain or spinal cord.

What happens during a CSF analysis?

Your cerebrospinal fluid will be collected through a procedure called a spinal tap, also known as a lumbar puncture. A spinal tap is usually done in a hospital. During the procedure:

  • You will lie on your side or sit on an exam table.
  • A health care provider will clean your back and inject an anesthetic into your skin, so you won’t feel pain during the procedure. Your provider may put a numbing cream on your back before this injection.
  • Once the area on your back is completely numb, your provider will insert a thin, hollow needle between two vertebrae in your lower spine. Vertebrae are the small backbones that make up your spine.
  • Your provider will withdraw a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid for testing. This will take about five minutes.
  • You’ll need to stay very still while the fluid is being withdrawn.
  • Your provider may ask you to lie on your back for an hour or two after the procedure. This may prevent you from getting a headache afterward.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t need any special preparations for a CSF analysis, but you may be asked to empty your bladder and bowels before the test.

Are there any risks to the test?

There is very little risk to having a spinal tap. You may feel a little pinch or pressure when the needle is inserted. After the test, you may get a headache, called a post-lumbar headache. About one in 10 people will get a post-lumbar headache. This can last for several hours or up to a week or more. If you have a headache that lasts longer than several hours, talk to your health care provider. He or she may be able to provide treatment to relieve the pain.

You may feel some pain or tenderness in your back at the site where the needle was inserted. You may also have some bleeding at the site.

What do the results mean?

Your CSF analysis results may indicate that you have an infection, an autoimmune disorder, such as multiple sclerosis, or another disease of the brain or spinal cord. Your provider will likely order more tests to confirm your diagnosis.

Is there anything else I need to know about a CSF analysis?

Some infections, such as meningitis caused by bacteria, are life-threatening emergencies. If your provider suspects you have bacterial meningitis or another serious infection, he or she may give you medicine before your diagnosis is confirmed.

References

  1. Allina Health [Internet]. Allina Health; c2017. Cerebrospinal fluid IgG measurement, quantitative [updated 2016 Mar 29; cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.allinahealth.org/CCS/doc/Thomson%20Consumer%20Lab%20Database/49/150438.htm
  2. Allina Health [Internet]. Allina Health; c2017. CSF albumin/plasma albumin ratio measurement [updated 2016 Mar 29; cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.allinahealth.org/CCS/doc/Thomson%20Consumer%20Lab%20Database/49/150212.htm
  3. Hinkle J, Cheever K. Brunner & Suddarth’s Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests. 2nd Ed, Kindle. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; c2014. Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis; 144 p.
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  6. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2017. CSF Analysis: The Test [updated 2015 Oct 30; cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/csf/tab/test
  7. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2017. CSF Analysis: The Test Sample [updated 2015 Oct 30; cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/csf/tab/sample
  8. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2017. Multiple Sclerosis: Tests [updated 2016 Apr 22; cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/understanding/conditions/multiplesclerosis/start/2
  9. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2017. Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): Risks; 2014 Dec 6 [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/lumbar-puncture/basics/risks/prc-20012679
  10. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2017. Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): Why it’s done; 2014 Dec 6 [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/lumbar-puncture/basics/why-its-done/prc-20012679
  11. Mayo Clinic: Mayo Medical Laboratories [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1995–2017. Test ID: SFIN: Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) IgG Index [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Clinical+and+Interpretive/8009
  12. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co. Inc.; c2017. Spinal Cord [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/biology-of-the-nervous-system/spinal-cord
  13. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co. Inc.; c2017. Tests for Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve Disorders [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/diagnosis-of-brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/tests-for-brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders
  14. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Guillain-Barré Syndrome Fact Sheet [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Guillain-Barre-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet
  15. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Meningitis-and-Encephalitis-Fact-Sheet
  16. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Multiple Sclerosis: Hope Through Research [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Multiple-Sclerosis-Hope-Through-Research#3215_3
  17. National Multiple Sclerosis Society [Internet]. National Multiple Sclerosis Society; c1995–2015. Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/Diagnosing-Tools/Cerebrospinal-Fluid-(CSF)
  18. Rammohan KW. Cerebrospinal fluid in multiple sclerosis. Ann Indian Acad Neurol [Internet]. 2009 Oct–Dec [cited 2017 Oct 22]; 12(4):246–253. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2824952
  19. Seehusen DA, Reeves MM, Fomin DA. Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis. Am Fam Physician [Internet] 2003 Sep 15 [cited 2017 Oct 22]; 68(6):1103–1109. Available from: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0915/p1103.html
  20. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Diagnostic Tests for Neurological Disorders [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=85&contentid=P00811
  21. UW Health: American Family Children’s Hospital [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2017. Kids Health: Spinal Tap [cited 2017 Oct 22]; [about 5 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealthkids.org/kidshealth/en/parents/lumbar-puncture.html/
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