Bone Marrow Culture

Written by Brian Krans | Published on June 1, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Peter Rudd, MD

Bone Marrow Culture

A bone marrow culture is a laboratory test done to learn if there is an infection in the soft tissue of your bones.

Bone marrow is the tissue inside your bones. It is responsible for making:

  • red blood cells
  • white blood cells
  • platelets

Red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. White blood cells fight infection. Platelets form clots to prevent blood loss.

If you are having a blood culture, your doctor will order a bone marrow biopsy or aspiration to collect cells from inside your bones.

Reasons for Bone Marrow Cultures

Your doctor may order a bone marrow culture if he or she believes that you might have an infection of the blood or bone marrow.

An infection of the bone is called osteomyelitis. It is most commonly caused by a staphylococcal bacterial infection.

A bone marrow culture will help your doctor identify the specific germ that is infecting the bone. A culture will also help confirm the possibility that infection is the cause of your symptoms.

Risks of Bone Marrow Cultures

A bone marrow culture itself carries no risks to you, the patient. It is conducted in a laboratory setting, and a sample of your bone marrow is used.

A biopsy or aspiration has risks that may affect you. The Mayo Clinic reports that biopsies and aspirations are safe procedures. However, there are a few rare risks. These include:

  • allergic reaction to anesthesia
  • excessive bleeding
  • infection
  • long-lasting discomfort

Preparing for Bone Marrow Cultures

You don’t prepare for a bone marrow culture, because once the cells have been collected through biopsy or aspiration, your work, as a patient, is done.

Procedure Involved for a Bone Marrow Culture

In a laboratory setting, a technician takes a sample of bone marrow and places it in a culture dish. The technician checks the sample daily to see if there is a growth of viruses or bacteria. It is also checked for cancerous cells.

The bone marrow is collected by a process called biopsy or aspiration. A biopsy is a sample of the hard marrow, and aspiration is a collection of liquid marrow. Both are relatively simple procedures. They begin with your doctor making a small incision in your skin, typically by the top of the hip near the top of the buttocks. Your doctor then uses a needle and small, thin instrument to extract a small sample of the marrow. These procedures are considered outpatient procedures, and you go home the day of the test.

After a Bone Marrow Culture

The results of the culture are reported to your doctor so he or she can decide how to begin treating the underlying problem.

A doctor typically begins treating blood infections with organism-killing antibiotics.

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