What is a Cerebral Spinal Fluid Analysis?

Thomma Grindstaff

Cerebral spinal fluid analysis, also known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis, is comprised of several lab tests that are used by medical professionals for diagnostic purposes. Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear liquid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain, provides them with nutrition, and protects them from injury. In cerebral fluid collection, a sample of the fluid is usually obtained through a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap.

Headache and radiating pain down the neck may occur after a spinal tap.
Headache and radiating pain down the neck may occur after a spinal tap.

In cerebral spinal fluid analysis, medical professionals analyze the content of the cerebrospinal fluid to diagnose disorders and diseases that impact the central nervous system. The fluid is made up primarily of amino acids and glucose. If other substances are present in the liquid, such as white blood cells, too much protein or cancer cells, these are indicators of serious conditions that need medical treatment.

Multiple sclerosis, among other conditions, may be detected using cerebral spinal fluid analysis.
Multiple sclerosis, among other conditions, may be detected using cerebral spinal fluid analysis.

One of the disorders that can be detected through cerebral spinal fluid analysis is multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease in which the protective material that coats the brain and spinal cord is damaged, leading to impaired communication between nerve cells. Other conditions that can be detected through analysis of spine fluid include viral and bacterial diseases like encephalitis or meningitis. A surplus of white blood cells indicates infection or inflammation. CSF analysis can also diagnose cancers involving the nervous system.

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Cerebral spinal fluid surrounds the spinal cord and brain.
Cerebral spinal fluid surrounds the spinal cord and brain.

The process of obtaining a sample for cerebral spinal fluid analysis is most commonly done with a lumbar puncture, but in rare instances, a doctor might choose another method. Cisternal puncture, in which fluid is collected from the back of the skull, is sometimes necessary if adequate fluid cannot be collected from the lumbar region of the spine. Ventricular puncture, another method of collecting CSF, is accomplished in the operating room by drilling a hole in the skull and may be necessary in the case of brain herniation, when brain tissue and CSF fluid have moved away from their normal position in a patient's head.

Cerebral spinal fluid analysis should only be done when a medical professional believes that the diagnostic benefits outweigh the physical risks. Lumbar puncture should be performed only if the lower back is free of skin infection; otherwise, the infection could be spread to the cerebrospinal fluid. Doctors must exercise caution in performing spinal taps on people who suffer from blood or clotting disorders, since excess bleeding can constrict the spinal cord.

Lumbar puncture can cause cerebrospinal fluid leak, in which the tough, outermost membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord is torn. Spinal fluid leaks out, and normal pressure around the brain and spinal cord drops. Symptoms of a leak include headache or drainage of CSF from the ear or nose.

A manometer may be used to gauge the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid pressure around the brain and spine.
A manometer may be used to gauge the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid pressure around the brain and spine.

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