Pericardial fluid culture is a test performed on a sample of fluid from the sac surrounding the heart. It is done to identify organisms that cause infection.
Pericardial fluid gram stain is a related topic.
How the Test is Performed
Some people may have a cardiac monitor placed before the test to check for heart disturbances. Patches called electrodes will be placed on the chest, similar to during an ECG. A chest x-ray or ultrasound may be done before the test.
The skin of the chest will be cleaned with antibacterial soap. A health care provider inserts a small needle into the chest between the ribs into the thin sac that surrounds the heart (the pericardium). A small amount of fluid is removed.
You may have an ECG and chest x-ray after the test. Sometimes the pericardial fluid is taken during open heart surgery.
The sample is sent to a lab. Samples of the fluid are placed on dishes of growth media to see if bacteria grow. It can take a few days to several weeks to get the test results.
How to Prepare for the Test
You will be asked not to eat or drink anything for several hours before the test. You may have a chest x-ray or ultrasound before the test to identify the area of fluid collection.
How the Test will Feel
You will feel some pressure and discomfort when the needle is inserted into the chest and the fluid is removed. Your provider should be able to give you pain medicine so that the procedure does not hurt very much.
A normal result means no bacteria or fungi are found in the fluid sample.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may be due to an infection of the pericardium. The specific organism causing the infection may be identified. More tests may be needed to determine the most effective treatments.
Complications are rare but include:
- Heart or lung puncture
Culture - pericardial fluid
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LeWinter MM, Imazio M. Pericardial diseases. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 83.
Maisch B, Ristic AD. Pericardial diseases. In: Vincent JL, Abraham E, Moore FA, Kochanek PM, Fink MP, eds. Textbook of Critical Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 84.
Review Date 12/1/2018
Updated by: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.