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CSF total protein


CSF total protein is a test to determine the amount of protein in your spinal fluid, also called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

How the Test is Performed

A sample of CSF is needed (1 to 5 ml). A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is the most common way to collect this sample. Rarely, other methods are used for collecting CSF such as:

  • 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

You may have this test to help diagnose:

  • Tumors
  • Infection
  • Inflammation of several groups of nerve cells
  • Vasculitis
  • Blood in the spinal fluid
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Normal Results

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 health care provider 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 abnormal protein level in the CSF suggests a problem in the central nervous system.

Increase protein level may be a sign of a tumor, bleeding, nerve inflammation, or injury. A blockage in the flow of spinal fluid can cause the rapid buildup of protein in the lower spinal area.

A decrease in protein level can mean your body is rapidly producing spinal fluid.


Griggs RC, Jozefowicz RF, Aminoff MJ. Approach to the patient with neurologic disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 396.

Rosenberg GA. Brain edema and disorders of cerebrospinal fluid circulation. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 59.

Review Date:6/1/2015
Reviewed By:Daniel Kantor, MD, Kantor Neurology, Coconut Creek, FL and immediate past president of the Florida Society of Neurology (FSN). Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

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