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Stool Culture Test

Last updated Oct. 12, 2015

Laboratory testing using cultures studies are often essential for a accurate diagnosis


What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • Bacterial Culture Stool Test
  • Enteric Pathogens Feces Culture Test
  • Feces Culture Test 

What is Stool Culture Test? (Background Information)

  • Stools or feces normally contain large amounts of bacteria. However, pathogens may infect the gastrointestinal tract and cause diseases. These pathogens often appear in the feces and significantly aid in diagnosis
  • The abundance of microbes in stool originates from the large intestine. There, symbiotic bacteria help extract energy, produce vitamins, and ward-off potential pathogens
  • Various conditions may affect the stability of the intestinal microbe population, or microbiota. These include diet, antibiotics, and stress
  • Imbalances in microbial populations may cause gastrointestinal illnesses and various other symptoms. This is because certain populations of microbes may overgrow and become pathogenic
  • Additionally, pathogenic organisms may enter the intestines from contaminated food items. Common organisms that contaminate food include E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, and C. difficile
  • The Stool Culture Test evaluates fecal material to detect pathogenic bacteria. It is used to diagnose a lower gastrointestinal tract infection by a range of common organisms. It is also used to guide treatment with antibiotics 

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Stool Culture Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing a Stool Culture Test:

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 

How is the Specimen Collected for Stool Culture Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Stool Culture Test:

Sample required: Stool

Process: Defecation into a sterile container. The stool must not be collected from the toilet bowl or using tissue paper.

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test. 

What is the Significance of the Stool Culture Test Result?

  • A positive Stool Culture Test may mean infection with an intestinal pathogen, such as E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, or C. difficile 

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results based on the overall clinical scenario. 

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • The medical community is just beginning to uncover the importance of intestinal microbiota in human health. A healthy balance of intestinal microbes has been credited with a wide range of benefits including proper immune function
  • The US FDA currently approves a procedure known as fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) for treatment of C. difficile infection. This technique has shown widespread effectiveness with minimal side effects 

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider of the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.  

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

DoveMed is currently working to bring you additional resources.

Please sign up by creating a DoveMed account to receive periodic notification on information updates. 

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Lab Tests Online (2014, January 6). Retrieved November 11, 2014 from http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/stool-culture/

Martini, F., Nath, J. L., & Bartholomew, E. F. (2012). Fundamentals of anatomy & physiology (9th ed.). San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.

Rohlke, F. (2012). Fecal microbiota transplantation in relapsing Clostridium difficile infection. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology5(6), 403-20.

Schnell, Z. B., Van, L. A., & Kranpitz, T. R. (2003). Davis's Comprehensive handbook of laboratory and diagnostic tests: With nursing implications. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis. 

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Nov. 12, 2014
Last updated: Oct. 12, 2015