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Also known as: PCT
Formal name: Procalcitonin

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The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Procalcitonin is a substance produced by many types of cells in the body, often in response to bacterial infections but also in response to tissue injury. The level of procalcitonin in the blood can increase significantly in systemic bacterial infections and sepsis. This test measures the level of procalcitonin in the blood.

Sepsis is the body's serious, overwhelming and sometimes life-threatening inflammatory response to a bacterial infection. Normally, a person's immune system targets an infection, confining the bacteria and limiting its response to the infected area. However, some infections may begin in one site of the body and then spread to the blood (bacteremia) and possibly to other sites. With sepsis, the body produces a generalized inflammatory response to the infection. This can cause a significant rise or fall in body temperature, increased heart rate and breathing rate, and a decrease in blood pressure. If not treated successfully, sepsis can progress to severe sepsis.

Other conditions can also increase procalcitonin in the blood, but usually procalcitonin is only mildly to moderately elevated. Examples of these conditions include tissue damage due to events such as trauma, surgery, pancreatitis, burns, cardiogenic shock (related to a heart attack), acute organ transplant rejection, and kidney involvement in urinary tract infections in children.

The procalcitonin test is useful in helping to detect sepsis and severe bacterial infections in the early stages and to distinguish between a bacterial infection and other non-bacterial causes of signs and symptoms in a seriously ill person.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.