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CSF total protein

Definition

CSF total protein is a test to determine the amount of protein in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a clear fluid that circulates in the space surrounding the spinal cord. An abnormal protein level in the CSF suggests that there is an abnormal process occurring in the central nervous system.

How the test is performed

A sample of CSF is needed. A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is the most common way to collect this sample. For information on this procedure, see the article on lumbar puncture.

Other methods for collecting CSF are rarely used, by may be recommended in some cases. They include:

  • 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 laboratory for evaluation.

How to prepare for the test

See: Lumbar puncture

How the test will feel

See: Lumbar puncture

Why the test is performed

Your doctor may order this test to help diagnose tumors, infection, inflammation of several groups of nerve cells, vasculitis, blood in the spinal fluid, or injury.

Normal Values

The normal protein range varies from lab to lab, but is typically about 15 to 60 mg/dL.

Note: mg/dL = milligrams per deciliter

Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

When the protein level in the CSF increases considerably, it may be a sign of a tumor, bleeding, nerve inflammation, or injury.

When the protein level in the CSF decreases, it can mean your body is rapidly producing spinal fluid.

Protein can accumulate in the lower spinal area where the lumbar puncture is performed if the free flow along the spinal cord is blocked by something. In this case, the protein can be many hundreds of milligrams/deciliter.

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

What the risks are

See: Lumbar puncture

References

Griggs RC, Jozefowicz RF, Aminoff MJ. Approach to the patient with neurologic disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier. 2007: chap 418.

Review Date: 6/24/2009
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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