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Lymph node culture

Definition

Lymph node culture is a laboratory test performed on a lymph node to identify microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that cause infection and lymph node swelling.

Alternative Names

Culture - lymph node

How the test is performed

A sample of fluid from a lymph node is needed. This may be done using a needle to draw out fluid (aspiration) or during a lymph node biopsy.

The sample is sent to a laboratory where it is placed in a special dish and watched to see if bacteria, fungi, or viruses grow. This is called a culture. Sometimes special stains are also used to identify specific cells or microorganisms.

If needle aspiration does not provide a good enough sample, the entire lymph node may be removed and sent for culture and other testing.

How to prepare for the test

There is no special preparation needed for the lab test. For information on how to prepare for the lymph node sample, see lymph node biopsy.

How the test will feel

For information on how the removal of the lymph node sample may feel, see lymph node biopsy.

Why the test is performed

Your doctor may order this test if you have swollen glands and infection is suspected.

Normal Values

A normal result means there was no growth of microorganisms on the lab dish.

Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results are a sign of a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. Infections may include atypical mycobacterial infection.

What the risks are

There is no risk to the patient associated with a lymph node culture. For risks related to the removal of the lymph node sample, see lymph node biopsy.

References

Armitage JO. Approach to the patient with lymphadenopathy and splenomegaly. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 311.


Review Date: 12/1/2009
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; 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. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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