CSF cell count
A CSF cell count is a test to measure the number of red and white blood cells that are in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a clear fluid that is in the space around the spinal cord and brain.
How the Test is Performed
A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is the most common way to collect this sample. Rarely, other methods are used for collecting CSF such as:
Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collection is a test to look at the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. CSF acts as a cushion, protecting the b...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Cisternal puncture
- Ventricular puncture
- Removal of CSF from a tube that is already in the CSF, such as a shunt or ventricular drain.
After the sample is taken, it is sent to a lab for evaluation.
Why the Test is Performed
The CSF cell count may help detect:
- Meningitis and infection of the brain or spinal cord
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. This covering is called the meninges.Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Tumor, abscess, or area of tissue death (infarct)
A tumor is an abnormal growth of body tissue. Tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign).Read Article Now Book Mark Article
An abscess is a collection of pus in any part of the body. In most cases, the area around an abscess is swollen and inflamed.Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Bleeding into the spinal fluid (secondary to subarachnoid hemorrhage)
The normal white blood cell count is between 0 and 5. The normal red blood cell count is 0.
Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.
What Abnormal Results Mean
An increase of white blood cells indicates infection, inflammation, or bleeding into the cerebrospinal fluid. Some causes include:
- Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Other infections
Finding red blood cells in the CSF may be a sign of bleeding. However, red blood cells in the CSF may also be due to the spinal tap needle hitting a blood vessel.
Additional conditions which this test may help diagnose include:
- Arteriovenous malformation (cerebral)
Arteriovenous malformation (cerebral)
A cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in the brain that usually forms before birth....Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Cerebral aneurysm
An aneurysm is a weak area in the wall of a blood vessel that causes the blood vessel to bulge or balloon out. When an aneurysm occurs in a blood ve...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Delirium is sudden severe confusion due to rapid changes in brain function that occur with physical or mental illness.Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a serious health problem that occurs when the body's defense (immune) system mistakenly attacks part of the peripher...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Neurosyphilis is a bacterial infection of the brain or spinal cord. It usually occurs in people who have had untreated syphilis for many years....Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Primary lymphoma of the brain
Primary lymphoma of the brain
Primary lymphoma of the brain is cancer of white blood cells that starts in the brain.Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Seizure disorders, including epilepsy
- Spinal tumor
A spinal tumor is a growth of cells (mass) in or around the spinal cord.Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Bergsneider M. Shunting. In: Winn HR, ed. Youmans and Winn Neurological Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 31.
Deluca GC, Griggs RC. Approach to the patient with neurologic disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 368.
CSF cell count - illustration
CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) is a clear fluid that circulates in the space surrounding the spinal cord and brain. A CSF cell count is a test to measure the number of red and white blood cells that are in CSF.
CSF cell count
Review Date: 5/4/2021
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department of Neurology, Cooper Medical School at Rowan University, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.