Xanthochromia after subarachnoid haemorrhage needs no revisitation

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1989 Jul;52(7):826-8. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.52.7.826.


Recently it was contended that it is bloodstained cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that is important in the diagnosis of subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) and not xanthochromia, and also that a normal CT scan and the absence of xanthochromia in the CSF do not exclude a ruptured intracranial aneurysm. The CSF findings were therefore reviewed of 111 patients with a proven SAH. All patients had xanthochromia of the CSF. Lumbar punctures were performed between 12 hours and one week after the ictus. Xanthochromia was still present in all (41) patients after 1 week, in all (32) patients after 2 weeks, in 20 of 22 patients after three weeks and in 10 of 14 patients after four weeks. In six years we identified only 12 patients with sudden headache, normal CT, bloodstained CSF, and no xanthochromia. Angiography was carried out in three and was negative. All 12 patients survived without disability and were not re-admitted with a SAH (mean follow up 4 years). It is concluded that it is still xanthochromia that is important in the diagnosis of SAH and not bloodstained CSF. Furthermore a normal CT scan and the absence of xanthochromia do exclude a ruptured aneurysm, provided xanthochromia is investigated by spectrophotometry and lumbar puncture is carried out between 12 hours and 2 weeks after the ictus.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intracranial Aneurysm / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Pigments, Biological / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Rupture, Spontaneous
  • Spinal Puncture*
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / diagnosis


  • Pigments, Biological