A Gram stain is a test used to identify bacteria. It is one of the most common ways to quickly diagnose bacterial infection in the body.
Urethral discharge - Gram stain; Feces - Gram stain; Stool - Gram stain; Joint fluid - Gram stain; Pericardial fluid - Gram stain; Gram stain of urethral discharge; Gram stain of the cervix; Pleural fluid - Gram stain; Sputum - Gram stain; Skin lesion - Gram stain; Gram stain of skin lesion; Gram stain of tissue biopsy
How the Test is Performed
How the test is performed depends on what tissue or fluid from your body is being tested. The test may be quite simple, or you may need to prepare ahead of time.
The sample is sent to a laboratory.
How to Prepare for the Test
Your provider will tell you what to do to prepare for the test. For some types of tests, you will not need to do anything.
How the Test will Feel
How the test will feel depends on the method used to take a sample. You may not feel anything, or you may feel pressure and mild pain, such as during a biopsy. You may be given some form of pain medicine so you have little or no pain.
Why the Test is Performed
You may have this test to diagnose an infection caused by bacteria. It can also identify the type of bacteria causing the infection.
This test can help find the cause of various health problems, including:
A normal result means that no bacteria or only "friendly" bacteria were found. Some types of bacteria normally live in certain areas of the body, such as the intestines. Bacteria normally don't live in other areas, such as the brain or spinal fluid.
Talk to your provider about the meaning of your specific test results.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may indicate an infection. You will need further tests, such as a culture, to find out more about the infection.
Your risks depend on the method used to remove tissue or fluid from your body. You may have no risk at all. Other risks are rare, but may include:
Beavis KG, Charnot-Katsikas A. Specimen collection and handling for diagnosis of infectious diseases. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2017:chap 64.
Hall GS, Woods GL. Medical bacteriology. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2017:chap 58.
Review Date: 4/15/2018
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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