Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and spinal cord. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a clear, colorless liquid that surrounds and protects the CNS. It bathes the brain and spine in nutrients and eliminates waste products. It also cushions them to help prevent injury in the event of trauma.
When a person exhibits symptoms of CNS inflammation or infection, a CSF culture may be ordered. It can help diagnose the illness and determine the appropriate treatment.
A CSF culture is used to detect infectious organisms in the CSF. The CNS is vulnerable to infection by bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
A CSF culture can help diagnose several disorders, including:
CSF pressure may also be measured at the same time a CSF culture is performed.
A lumbar puncture, or “spinal tap,” is used to collect CSF for culture. A physician will insert a needle into the space between two vertebrae in the lower (lumbar) spine. The needle will then be moved carefully into the CSF-filled space surrounding the spinal cord. When the needle is in place, fluid can drip out into a collection vial. More than one vial may be needed. The procedure can take several minutes.
Other methods can also be used to collect CSF. However, they are only used in people who have deformities of the spine or cannot otherwise have a standard lumbar puncture. A needle can be inserted under the occipital bone at the base of the brain. A hole can also be drilled directly into the skull.
Once enough CSF has been collected, it is sent to a laboratory. There it is placed in dishes containing culture medium. The dishes are monitored for the growth of infectious organisms. If there is no growth, the test is considered normal, or negative.
If bacteria, viruses, or fungi are detected in your CSF, the test is considered positive. This means there is an infection.
The CSF culture is not dangerous. However, CSF collection does have risks. Risks of lumbar puncture include:
Lumbar punctures should not be performed on anyone with a brain tumor or cyst. In such cases, the procedure can cause brain damage and even death.
Written by: Maureen Donohue
Medically reviewed : George Krucik, MD
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.
Members save 15% all day, every day when dining at participating Denny’s restaurants.
Members save up to 25% and get other exclusive benefits at Avis and Budget Rent A Car.
Save time and money on your next car purchase with the AARP Auto Buying Program.
Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.
Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.
Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.
Register at a location near you to keep your driving skills sharp.
Find opportunities to volunteer in your neighborhood.
NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon teams up with AARP Foundation.