Fecal Culture

Written by Brian Krans | Published on June 20, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Fecal Culture?

A fecal culture is a laboratory test used to determine if bacteria, which can cause infection or disease, are present in your digestive tract. By testing your stool, your doctor can determine the type of bacteria present and prescribe the right antibiotic to combat the problem.

The test is quick, painless, and relatively easy. It is formally known as an enteric pathogens culture or a stool culture.

Why a Fecal Culture is Done

According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, a fecal culture test may be done if you have chronic, persistent digestive problems. (AACC) Symptoms might include:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • cramping
  • fever
  • nausea
  • stool containing blood or mucus
  • vomiting

Before ordering the test, your doctor will rule out whether foods or drinks caused your symptoms. You might experience similar reactions if you recently ate uncooked eggs or improperly processed foods.

Your doctor will ask if you have traveled outside of the United States. International travelers are sometimes at a higher risk for food contamination, especially when in underdeveloped countries.

People with healthy immune systems typically recover naturally from minor digestive infections without any problems. However, those with weakened immune systems, including infants, the elderly, or people with certain diseases like HIV or AIDS, may need antibiotics to help fight infections.

Your doctor may order more than one stool test to check if the treatments are working or see if the infection is getting worse.

The Risks of Fecal Culture

There are no risks associated with a fecal culture test.

However, you could become contaminated if you come in contact with your stool sample. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap after collecting the sample.

How to Prepare for a Fecal Culture

Your doctor will give you the necessary equipment needed to collect your stool sample. This includes a container that you will need to return with the sample for testing.

If you’re having trouble producing a sample, a green salad or some high-fiber foods may help to move your digestive tract along.

How a Fecal Culture is Performed

A stool sample is typically collected using a piece of wax paper spread across the toilet bowl. It should be held in place by the toilet seat.

Once the sample is collected, it is placed into a container and handed over to your doctor.

From there, your sample is sent to a laboratory where it will be placed into a special dish that allows bacteria to grow. The sample is viewed under a microscope to check for bacteria. The results are then sent to your doctor.

After a Fecal Culture is Done

Your digestive tract is filled with billions of bacteria, and there are numerous bacteria that can cause your symptoms. Bacteria like those in the Salmonella species can cause diarrhea, cramping, and other problems.

Your doctor needs to determine the type of bacteria you have, or rule out bacteria as the reason behind your problems. Once the cause is identified, he or she can find the proper antibiotic or other treatment to adequately treat your symptoms.

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