Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a clear, colourless liquid that fills and surrounds the brain and the spinal cord and provides a mechanical barrier against shock. Formed primarily in the ventricles of the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid supports the brain and provides lubrication between surrounding bones and the brain and spinal cord.
When an individual suffers a head injury, the fluid acts as a cushion, dulling the force by distributing its impact. The fluid helps to maintain pressure within the cranium at a constant level.
An increase in the volume of blood or brain tissue results in a corresponding decrease in the fluid. Conversely, if there is a decrease in the volume of matter within the cranium, as occurs in atrophy of the brain, the CSF compensates with an increase in volume.
The fluid also transports metabolic waste products, antibodies, chemicals, and pathological products of disease away from the brain and spinal-cord tissue into the bloodstream. CSF is slightly alkaline and is about 99 percent water. There are about 100 to 150 ml of CSF in the normal adult human body.
Examination of the CSF may diagnose a number of diseases. A fluid sample is obtained by inserting a needle into the lumbar region of the lower back below the termination of the spinal cord; this procedure is called a lumbar puncture or spinal tap. If the CSF is cloudy, meningitis (inflammation of the central nervous system lining) may be present. Blood in the fluid may indicate a hemorrhage in or around the brain.