Bile culture is a laboratory test to detect disease-causing germs in the biliary system.
Culture - bile
How the Test is Performed
A sample of bile is needed. This can be done using different methods, including gallbladder surgery or a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
The bile sample is sent to a lab. There, it is placed in a special dish called a culture medium to see if bacteria, virus, or fungus grows on the sample.
How to Prepare for the Test
Preparation depends on the specific method used to obtain the bile sample. Follow your health care provider's instructions exactly on how to prepare.
How the Test will Feel
If bile is taken during gallbladder surgery, you will feel no pain because you are asleep.
If bile is taken during ERCP, you will receive medicine to relax you. You may have some discomfort as the endoscope passes through your mouth, throat, and down the esophagus. This feeling will go away shortly.
Why the Test is Performed
This test is done to detect infection within the biliary system. The biliary system creates, moves, stores, and releases bile to help in digestion.
The test result is normal if no bacteria, virus, or fungus grew in the laboratory 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
An abnormal result means bacteria, fungus, or virus grew in the laboratory dish. This may be a sign of infection.
Risks depend on the method used to take a sample of the bile. Your health care provider can explain these risks.
Hall GS, Woods GL. Medical bacteriology. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 57.
Kim AY, Chung RT. Bacterial, parasitic, and fungal infections of the liver, including liver abscess. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 82.
George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.