Navigate Up

Heart Center - A-Z Index

#
J
Q
X
Z

Print This Page

Pericardial fluid Gram stain

Pericardial fluid Gram stain is a method of staining a sample of fluid taken from the sac surrounding the heart to diagnose a bacterial infection. The Gram stain method is one of the most commonly used techniques for the rapid diagnosis of bacterial infections.

Alternative Names

Gram stain of pericardial fluid

How the test is performed

A sample of fluid will be taken from the sac surrounding the heart. Before this is done, some people may have a cardiac monitor to check for heart disturbances. Patches called electrodes are put on the chest, similar to during an ECG . You will have a chest x-ray or ultrasound before the test.

The skin of the chest is cleaned with antibacterial soap. A trained physician, often a cardiologist, inserts a small needle into the chest between the ribs and into the thin sac that surrounds the heart (the pericardium). A small amount of fluid is taken out.

You may have an ECG and chest x-ray after the procedure. Sometimes the pericardial fluid is taken during open heart surgery.

A drop of the pericardial fluid is placed in a very thin layer on a microscope slide. This is called a smear. A series of special stains are applied to the sample. This is called a gram stain. A laboratory specialist looks at the stained slide under the microscope, checking for bacteria.

The color, size, and shape of the cells help make it possible to identify the bacteria.

How to prepare for the test

You will be asked not to eat or drink anything for several hours before the test. A chest x-ray or ultrasound may be done before the test to identify the area of fluid collection.

How the test will feel

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

Why the test is performed

Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of a heart infection or a pericardial effusion (fluid build up) with an unknown cause.

Normal Values

A normal result means no bacteria are seen in the stained fluid sample.

What abnormal results mean

If bacteria are present, you may have an infection of the pericardium or heart. Blood tests and bacterial culture can help identify the specific organism causing the infection.

What the risks are

Complications are rare but may include:

  • Heart or lung puncture
  • Infection

References

Knowlton KU, Savoia MC, Oxman MN. Myocarditis and pericarditis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 81.

Little WC, Oh JK. Pericardial diseases. In: Goldman L,Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 77.

Updated: 5/31/2012

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. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com