AIM--To assess the diagnostic value of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) spectrophotometry, cytology, ferritin, and D-dimer measurements in the investigation of suspected subarachnoid haemorrhage in patients with negative or equivocal computed tomography (CT) scans. METHODS--CSF specimens submitted for assessment of xanthochromia were examined for erythrophages using a cytospin preparation stained with Wright's stain, for ferritin using the Ciba-Corning Magic IRMA assay, D-dimers using the Dimertest 2 latex agglutination slide test, and for bilirubin by scanning spectrophotometry. The patients were divided into three groups for data analysis and the results compared with the existing methods, CT, and angiogram results. Final diagnoses were reviewed by a consultant neurologist. RESULTS--Thirty six patients were recruited. In those patients with confirmed subarachnoid haemorrhage CSF cytology had a low sensitivity and there were false negative results with both the D-dimer and ferritin assays. Eleven patients with a negative or equivocal CT scan underwent angiography, but only one aneurysm and no arterio-venous malformations or bleeding points were identified. In the patient with the aneurysm there was no laboratory evidence of subarachnoid haemorrhage. Six patients had CSF abnormalities detected by the special tests only and in none of these cases was subarachnoid haemorrhage confirmed. All results were normal in four out of five cases of traumatic tap. CONCLUSIONS--This is a small study, but it shows that, depending on the timing of the lumbar puncture, false negative results can occur with both ferritin and D-dimer measurements. It suggests that neither of these tests adds significantly to the information provided by CT, visualisation of CSF, and spectrophotometry and confirms that, despite the use of spectrophotometry, D-dimer and ferritin assays in selecting patients for angiography, the proportion of patients with negative CT scans and colourless CSF with demonstrable vascular lesions remains low.
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