Cerebrospinal fluid pleocytosis in infectious and noninfectious central nervous system disease: A retrospective cohort study

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Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis is the most important tool for assessing central nervous system (CNS) disease. An elevated CSF leukocyte count rarely provides the final diagnosis, but is almost always an indicator of inflammation within the CNS.

The present study investigated the variety of diseases associated with CSF pleocytosis.

CSF analyses were identified through the biochemical database used in the capital region of Denmark in the period from 2003 to 2010. In patients >15 years, clinical diagnoses associated with the finding of a CSF leukocyte count >10 × 106 cells/L were obtained from discharge records and patient files.

A total of 1058 CSF samples from 1054 patients were included in the analysis. The median age was 50 (interquartile range: 36–67) and 53% were male. Eighty-one different diagnoses were identified in 1058 cases with an elevated CSF leukocyte count, besides unknown causes. Infections were the most common cause of CSF pleocytosis (61.4%) followed by miscellaneous causes (12.7%), vascular (9.7%), neurodegenerative (7%), neoplastic (5%), and inflammatory conditions (4.2%). Only infections presented with leukocyte counts >10,000 × 106/L. Infections represented 82.6% of all cases with a leukocyte count >100 × 106/L whereas 56.3% of cases with at leukocyte counts <100 × 106/L were dominated by disease not related to infection.

The present study may serve as a reminder to clinicians of what diseases and disease categories to suspect when patients present with CSF biochemistry indicating CNS inflammation.

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