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Collecting Samples for Testing

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Samples that are Easy to Obtain

Some samples are collected by simply running a swab over the affected area. Procedures of this type can be performed in a clinic, in your doctor's office, or at the hospital bedside. The sample may be sent to a laboratory for analysis (although a few tests can provide in-office results in just a few minutes). Throat, nasal, vaginal, and superficial wound cultures, for example, are obtained in this way. The procedures, while they may sometimes be uncomfortable, are generally quick, relatively painless, and have no after-effects.

Examples of such collections include:

Secretions and Tissues from the Female Reproductive System — Samples of vaginal secretions are obtained by running a cotton swab over the walls of the vagina; cervical cells for a Pap test are obtained using a cotton swab and spatula or a tiny brush. Endometrial tissue samples are obtained by inserting a thin, flexible, hollow tube into the uterus, during which you may feel a slight pinch or brief cramping. Patients may feel some emotional and physical discomfort during this procedure. A sensitive approach by the healthcare provider contributes greatly to the patient's emotional comfort. If you are physically uncomfortable, discuss this with your healthcare provider.

Secretions and Fluids from the Nose or Throat — The specimen is collected by running a swab over the area of interest and processed for bacteriological cultures. People typically respond to swabbing of their throat with a momentary "gag" reflex. If the throat is sore, the sample collection, brief as it is, can be uncomfortable. Similarly, a nasal swab may be a bit uncomfortable as the swab is inserted and reaches areas inside the nose that are typically never touched. Try to remember that the discomfort is temporary and ask your practitioner if there are ways to minimize any soreness that may result.

Samples from Open Wounds and Sores — If a wound or sore is located in the outer layer of skin, the specimen is typically collected on a swab by brushing the swab over the area and gathering a sample of fluid or pus. Touching the open wound area may be temporarily painful since the wound is likely to be tender and sore. If a wound or infection is deep, however, a needle and syringe may be used to aspirate a sample of fluid or pus from the site.

Other easy to obtain samples can include:

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