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Bone marrow culture

Bone marrow culture is an examination of the soft, fatty tissue found inside certain bones. The bone marrow tissue produces blood cells. This test is done to look for an infection inside the bone marrow.

Alternative Names

Culture - bone marrow

How the Test is Performed

The doctor removes a sample of your bone marrow from the back of your pelvic bone or front of your breast bone. This is done with a small needle inserted into your bone. The process is called  a bone marrow aspiration or a biopsy.

The tissue sample is sent to a lab. It is placed into a special container called a culture dish. The tissue sample is examined under a microscope each day to see if any bacteria, fungi, or viruses have grown.

If any bacteria, fungi, or viruses are found, other tests may be done to learn which drugs will kill the organisms. Treatment can then be adjusted based on these results.

How the Test will Feel

You may feel pressure and pain as the marrow is being removed. (You may be given some numbing medicine, called anesthesia, before the procedure.)

Soreness at the site usually lasts from a few hours to 1-2 days.

Why the Test is Performed

You may have this test if you have an unexplained fever or if your health care provider thinks you have an infection of the bone marrow.

Normal Results

No growth of bacteria, viruses, or fungi in the culture is normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results suggest that you have an infection of the bone marrow. The infection may be from bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

Risks

  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Considerations

Fluid (aspirate) or a piece of tissue (biopsy specimen) from the bone marrow may be sent to the lab for many other kinds of tests. These tests can help gather information on immature blood cells such as:

  • How they look
  • How they are developing
  • What markers are present on the cell surface
  • How the chromosomes appear

References

Bagby G. Aplastic anemia and related bone marrow failure states. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 168.

Murray PR, Witebsky FG. The clinician and the microbiology laboratory. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Disease. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 227.

Updated: 3/3/2013

Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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