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Cell Count Cerebrospinal Fluid Test

Last updated May 20, 2019

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

The Cell Count Cerebrospinal test determines the type and quantity of cells present in the cerebrospinal fluid.

What are other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • Cell Count CSF Test

What is the Cell Count Cerebrospinal Fluid Test? (Background Information)

  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a protective fluid released by the choroid plexus of the brain. It circulates through the ventricular system of the brain and spinal cord
  • The cerebrospinal fluid has two protective roles:
    • Acts as a cushion to shield the brain and spinal cord from physical trauma
    • Forms a medium that gives chemical stability and isolates the brain from potentially damaging substances, such as drugs and metabolic wastes
  • CSF is a clear and colorless liquid that resembles water. It should not contain blood cells, such as white blood cells and red blood cells
  • Because of the close relationship CSF has with the brain and spinal cord, analysis of the cells in CSF may yield valuable information regarding the health of these structures
  • Cerebrospinal fluid is most often obtained through a procedure known as a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap. However, it can also be obtained through a ventricular or cisternal puncture
  • Obtaining CSF may be more difficult than obtaining blood or other body fluids. However, CSF provides information unavailable through other means
  • The Cell Count Cerebrospinal test determines the type and quantity of cells present in the cerebrospinal fluid. It is used to identify infections, inflammation, cancer, or other disorders and complications

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Cell Count Cerebrospinal Fluid Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing the Cell Count Cerebrospinal Fluid Test:

  • Monitoring progress of chemotherapy
  • Monitoring progress of a known cancer, infection, or other disorder
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Altered mental status
  • Numbness of extremities
  • Sudden trouble speaking or understanding
  • Prolonged infection
  • Paleness 
  • Fatigue

How is the Specimen Collected for the Cell Count Cerebrospinal Fluid Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Cell Count Cerebrospinal Fluid Test:

Sample required: Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF)

Process of obtaining a blood sample in adults:

  • The skull or lower back is cleaned with 70% alcohol in an outward spiral, away from the zone of needle insertion
  • A thick needle is inserted into the site, and the necessary amount of CSF is drawn out

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test.

What is the Significance of the Cell Count Cerebrospinal Fluid Test Result?

A high value for the Cell Count Cerebrospinal Fluid Test, including elevated levels of neutrophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils, and the presence of tumor cells, may indicate:

  • Infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
  • CSF infarct
  • Metastatic tumor in contact with CSF
  • Multiple sclerosis

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • The CSF does not form the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is formed by a series of tightly interwoven capillaries. In fact, substances that make it to the CSF often have free access to the brain

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider of the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

The following DoveMed website link is a useful resource for additional information:


Please visit our Laboratory Procedures Center for more physician-approved health information:


References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Jan. 17, 2016
Last updated: May 20, 2019