A2. Cerebrospinal fluid tests

Page created on April 4, 2022. Not updated since.


Cerebrospinal fluid can be assessed in the evaluation of many neurological conditions. CSF is mostly obtained by lumbar puncture (LP). The CSF pressure can also be measured during lumbar puncture.

Procedure of lumbar puncture

Performing lumbar puncture while there is increased ICP can cause brain herniation, and so ruling out increased ICP is important before performing LP. This can be performed by ophthalmoscopy (by looking for papilloedema) or by head CT.

LP can be performed with the patient in sitting position or lying on their side. In either case, the patient should flex their back maximally to enlarge the space between the vertebrae. If lying on their side, the patient should have a pillow between their legs to prevent the back from twisting. Lying position gives less postprocedural headache.

A line is drawn from the top of both iliac crests to the spine. This line crosses the spine at approximately L4 level. One can puncture between L3-L4 or L4-L5, as the spinal cord ends at L1-L2.

Sterile technique must be used. Local anaesthesia may be used, although the most painful part is needle penetration through the skin and subcutaneous tissue, and applying local anaesthesia means that the patient experiences two needle punctures rather than one. The penetration of the LP needle beyond the subcutaneous tissue is usually not painful, but rather uncomfortable.

The needle is introduced in the midline, although paramedian entry is also a possibility, but mostly for those who are very experienced. The needle bevel should point to the patient’s side, to allow the needle to spread the ligaments rather than cut them. The needle should be angled slightly cranially, as if aiming for the umbilicus. When the needle penetrates the ligamentum flavum and dura mater, a sudden loss of resistance is felt, which is a good sign. While progressing the needle, repeatedly remove the stylet to observe for CSF flow, which indicates successful entry into the subarachnoid space. When flow is achieved, CSF can be collected.


  • Assessment of CSF, in the evaluation of
    • CNS infection or inflammation (meningitis, encephalitis)
    • CNS malignancy or paraneoplastic syndrome
    • Subarachnoid haemorrhage
    • Gullain-Barré syndrome
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Dementia
  • CSF pressure measurement, in the evaluation of:
    • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
    • Pseudotumour cerebri
  • Intrathecal administration of drugs
  • Tap test for NPH


  • Increased intracranial pressure due to expansive process in the skull (may cause herniation)
  • Infection above or near the point of entry of LP, for example epidural abscess
  • Thrombocytopaenia < 40 000
  • Anticoagulation (should be stopped a few days before)

Normal values of CSF

ParameterNormal range
Pressure8 – 20 cmH2O
AppearanceLike water
WBCs<5 cells/µL
Protein<0,5 g/L
Glucose>60-70% of blood glucose

Microbiological examinations (culture, PCR), immunoglobulins, as well as measurement of certain biomarkers, like those of dementia or prion disease, can also be measured in CSF.


  • Headache (relatively common)
  • Spinal haematoma
  • Infection

Previous page:

Next page:

Parent page:

Leave a Reply

Inputting your name is optional. All comments are anonymous.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.