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Fecal culture

A fecal culture is a laboratory test to find organisms in the stool (feces) that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and disease.

Alternative Names

Stool culture; Culture - stool

How the Test is Performed

A stool sample is needed.

There are many ways to collect the sample.

  • You can catch the stool on plastic wrap that is loosely placed over the toilet bowl and held in place by the toilet seat. Then you put the sample in a clean container.
  • A test kit is available that supplies a special toilet tissue that you use to collect the sample. After collecting the sample, you put it in a container.

Do not mix urine, water, or toilet tissue with the sample.

For children wearing diapers:

  • Line the diaper with plastic wrap.
  • Position the plastic wrap so that it will prevent urine and stool from mixing. This will provide a better sample.

Return the sample to the laboratory as soon as possible. Do not include toilet paper or urine in the specimen.

In the laboratory, a technician places a sample of the specimen in a special dish filled with a gel that encourages bacteria or other germs to grow. If there is growth, the germs are identified. The lab technician may also do more tests to determine the best treatment.

How to Prepare for the Test

You will get a collection container for the stool specimen.

How the Test will Feel

There is no discomfort.

Why the Test is Performed

The test is performed when your health care provider suspects that you may have a gastrointestinal infection. It may be done if you have severe diarrhea that does not go away or that keeps coming back.

Normal Results

There are no abnormal bacteria or other germs in the sample.

Talk to your health care provider about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may mean you have an intestinal infection .

Risks

There are no risks.

Considerations

Often other stool tests are done in addition to the culture, such as:

References

DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 291.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 142.

Giannella RA. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis and bacterial food poisoning. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 107.

Croft AC, Woods GL. Specimen collection and handling for diagnosis of infectious diseases. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 63.

Salwen MJ, Siddiqi HA, Gress FG, Bowne WB. Laboratory diagnosis of gastrointestinal and pancreatic disorders. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 22. 

Fritsche TR, Selvarangan R. Medical parasitology. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 62.

Updated: 5/15/2014

Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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