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Pericardial fluid culture

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 is the Test 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 doctor 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. Bacteria are grown in samples of the fluid. It can take a few hours to several weeks to get the test results.

Preparation 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.

You will feel some pressure and discomfort when the needle is inserted into the chest and the fluid is removed. Your doctor should be able to give you pain medicine so that the procedure does not hurt very much.

Why is the Test Performed?

Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of a heart sac infection or if you have pericardial effusion.

The test may also be done if you have pericarditis.

Normal Results for Pericardial fluid culture

A normal result means no infectious organisms 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.

Pericardial fluid culture Risks

Complications are rare but include:

  • Heart or lung puncture
  • Infection


LeWinter MM, Hopkins WE. Pericardial diseases. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 71.

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Review Date: 12/7/2014
Reviewed 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, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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