A stool culture can find out what bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi may be causing an infection.
For a stool culture, you collect a stool sample in a clean container. Then you bring it to a lab where the bacteria or other organisms are allowed to grow. To find out what type of infection you have, the person doing the test will do chemical tests and look at the sample under a microscope.
Depending on what your stool is being tested for, you may only need to collect one stool sample. Or you may need several stool samples over a period of days.
A stool culture is done to:
You do not need to do anything special to prepare for this test.
Tell your doctor if you have recently taken antibiotics, traveled out of the country, drunk untreated water, or had a recent test with contrast material, such as a barium swallow or a barium enema.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form (What is a PDF document?).
Stool samples can be collected at home. Or you may need to go to your doctor's office, a medical clinic, or the hospital. If you collect the samples at home, you may be given a special container.
You may need to collect more than one sample. Follow the same steps for each sample.
To collect the sample:
Take the sample to your doctor's office or the lab as soon as you can. You may need to take your sample to the lab within a certain time, usually within 30 minutes or less of collecting it. Tell your doctor if you think you may have trouble getting the sample to the lab on time.
Samples from babies and young children may be taken from diapers (if the stool does not have urine mixed with it). Or a narrow tube may be put into the baby's rectum while you hold the baby on your lap.
Sometimes a stool sample is collected using a rectal swab. The swab is inserted into the rectum, rotated gently, and then pulled out. It is placed in a clean, dry container and sent to the lab right away.
Most people do not feel pain when they collect a stool sample.
If your doctor collects the stool sample using a cotton swab, you may feel some pressure or discomfort as the cotton swab is inserted into your rectum.
There is no chance for problems while collecting a stool sample.
Be sure to wear gloves when you collect the sample. Wash your hands before and after you collect the sample. This will help protect you from spreading an infection.
A stool culture is done to find bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi that may be causing an infection.
Stool culture test results usually take 2 to 3 days. But some cultures for fungus and parasites may take weeks to get results.
No disease-causing bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses are present or grow in the culture.
If bacteria are found in the culture, sensitivity testing may be done to help choose the best treatment.
Your stool also may be looked at under a microscope to check for parasites such as Giardia.
You may not be able to have the test, or the results may not be helpful, if:
Other Works Consulted
- Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
- Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014
Current as of: September 9, 2014
Author: Healthwise Staff
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.