What Is a Fecal Culture?
A fecal culture is a laboratory test used to determine what
types of bacteria are present in your digestive tract. Some types of bacteria
can cause infection or disease. By testing your feces, or stool, your doctor
can learn which types of bacteria are present. This can help them figure out
the cause of digestive symptoms, as well as the appropriate treatment plan.
The test is quick, painless, and relatively easy. It was 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. Symptoms might include:
- abdominal pain
- blood or mucus in your stool
Before ordering the test, your doctor will ask questions to
learn if a food-borne illness has caused your symptoms. For example, you might
experience similar reactions if you recently ate uncooked eggs or improperly
processed foods. Your doctor will also ask if you have traveled outside of the
United States. International travelers are sometimes at a higher risk of food
contamination, especially if they’ve been in developing nations.
People with healthy immune systems typically recover
naturally from minor digestive infections without any problems. However, those
with weakened immune systems may need antibiotics to help fight infections.
This can include infants, older adults, and people with certain diseases, such
Your doctor may order more than one stool test over a period
of time. This can help them check if treatments are working or your infection
is getting worse.
The Risks of Fecal Culture
There are no risks associated with a fecal culture test. However,
your stool sample may contain infectious pathogens that you can spread to
others. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap after
collecting your sample.
How to Prepare for a Fecal Culture
Your doctor will give you equipment to collect your stool
sample. This includes a container that you will need to return with your stool
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 your toilet bowl. It should be held in place by your toilet
Once you’ve collected a sample of your stool on the wax
paper, place it in the container provided and give it 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
After a Fecal Culture Is Done
Your doctor will use the results to determine the type of
bacteria in your digestive system. They may find certain bacteria that can
cause infection or disease, or they may rule out bacteria as the reason behind
your problems. Once they’ve identified the cause of your symptoms, they can
prescribe the appropriate antibiotic or other treatment course. If they
determine that bacteria aren’t causing your symptoms, you may need to undergo
A fecal culture provides a simple, risk-free way for your
doctor to learn about the bacteria in your digestive system. Some types of
bacteria can cause infections and diseases. If you’ve been experiencing persistent
digestive problems, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or nausea, speak to your
doctor. They may request a fecal culture to help diagnose the cause of your