A fecal culture is a lab test to find organisms in the stool (feces) that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and disease.
How the Test is Performed
A stool sample is needed.
There are many ways to collect the sample.
You can collect the sample:
- On plastic wrap. Place the wrap loosely over the toilet bowl so that it is held in place by the toilet seat. Put the sample in a clean container given to you by your health care provider.
- In a test kit that supplies a special toilet tissue. Put it in a clean container given to you by your provider.
Do not mix urine, water, or toilet tissue with the sample.
For children wearing diapers:
- Line the diaper with plastic wrap.
- Position the plastic wrap so that it will prevent urine and stool from mixing. This will provide a better sample.
Return the sample to the laboratory as soon as possible. Do not include toilet paper or urine in the specimen.
In the lab, a technician places a sample of the specimen in a special dish. The dish is then filled with a gel that boosts the growth of bacteria or other germs. If there is growth, the germs are identified. The lab technician may also do more tests to determine the best treatment.
How to Prepare for the Test
You will get a collection container for the stool specimen.
How the Test will Feel
There is no discomfort.
Why the Test is Performed
The test is performed when your health care provider suspects that you may have a gastrointestinal infection. It may be done if you have severe diarrhea that does not go away or that keeps coming back.
There are no abnormal bacteria or other organisms in the sample.
Talk to your provider about the meaning of your specific test results.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may mean you have an intestinal infection.
There are no risks.
Stool culture; Culture - stool; Gastroenteritis fecal culture
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Hall GS, Woods GL. Medical bacteriology. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 58.
Melia JMP, Sears CL. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 110.
Siddiqi HA, Salwen MJ, Shaikh MF, Bowne WB. Laboratory diagnosis of gastrointestinal and pancreatic disorders. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 22.
Review Date 4/11/2020
Updated by: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.