Also Known As
PCT
Formal Name
Procalcitonin
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on
15 January 2018.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To help diagnose sepsis in a person who is critically ill; to help determine the risk of severe sepsis leading to septic shock in a person who has sepsis; to distinguish bacterial from non-bacterial infections

When To Get Tested?

When someone is seriously ill and a doctor wants to distinguish between sepsis and other causes of the illness; to help guide treatment in a patient with sepsis

Sample Required?

A blood sample taken from a vein in your arm

Test Preparation Needed?

None

On average it takes 7 working days for the blood test results to come back from the hospital, depending on the exact tests requested. Some specialist test results may take longer, if samples have to be sent to a reference (specialist) laboratory. The X-ray & scan results may take longer. If you are registered to use the online services of your local practice, you will be able to access your results online.

If the doctor wants to see you about the result(s), you will be offered an appointment. If you are concerned about your test results, you will need to arrange an appointment with your doctor so that all relevant information including age, ethnicity, health history, signs and symptoms, laboratory and other procedures (radiology, endoscopy, etc.), can be considered.

Lab Tests Online-UK is an educational website designed to provide patients and carers with information on laboratory tests used in medical care. We are not a laboratory and are unable to comment on an individual's health and treatment.

Reference ranges are dependent on many factors, including patient age, gender, sample population, and test method, and numeric test results can have different meanings in different laboratories.

For these reasons, you will not find reference ranges for the majority of tests described on this web site. The lab report containing your test results should include the relevant reference range for your test(s). Please consult your doctor or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range if you do not have the lab report.

For more information on reference ranges, please read Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

This test measures the amount of procalcitonin in the blood. Procalcitonin is made during the process of producing the thyroid hormone calcitonin. It is normally produced by special cells in the thyroid gland called C-cells and is present in low levels in the blood. However, it may also be made by other cells in the body when stimulated by certain disease processes, in particular whole body bacterial infaction (systemic bacterial infection or sepsis) as opposed to just local bacterial infections. Other reasons for increased procalcitonin include infection from other causes, tissue damage due to events such as trauma, surgery, pancreatitis, burns, heart attack; and rapid and severe organ (kidney, heart, lung etc) transplant rejection.

Levels of procalcitonin in the blood increase rapidly and to high concentrations when a person has sepsis. They are not as particularly increased when a person has a viral infection or other illnesses which may have the same or similar symptoms as sepsis. Difference in stimulous gives procalcitonin the potential to be used to help detect severe bacterial infection at an early stage and to be able to distinguish between a bacterial infection and another cause of a serious illness.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is taken by putting a needle into a vein in the arm.

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

No test preparation is needed.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    The procalcitonin test is relatively new, but it is beginning to be used in UK hospitals. Recent studies have shown that it may help to discover whether a seriously ill person is developing sepsis. It has been studied mainly in Emergency Departments or intensive therapy units (ITUs) who have symptoms that may be due to sepsis. For diagnosis, procalcitonin is best used during the first day the patient is seen by the doctor. It may be used later on to follow how the patient responses to treatment.

    Procalcitonin may sometimes be requested with other tests such as a CRP (C-reactive protein), blood culture, FBC(Full Blood Count), or CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) analysis to help detect or rule out sepsis, bacterial meningitis, or bacterial pneumonia in those who are seriously ill and in children with a fever of unknown origin.

    Occasionally, a procalcitonin test may be used to follow the effectiveness of antimicrobial treatment.

  • When is it requested?

    The procalcitonin test may be requested with other tests, when a seriously ill person has symptoms that suggest that they may have sepsis or severe bacterial infection. Procalcitonin is normally used as an early detection test, requested within the first day of hospital admission. Complications of sepsis may include:

    • Chills, fever
    • Feeling sick (nausea)
    • Rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat
    • Confusion
    • Decreased urine output

    More severe symptoms include inflammation throughout the body and formation of many tiny blood clots in the veins and capillaries. One or more organs may begin to stop working (multi-organ failure) and there may be a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Rarely, procalcitonin may be requestedon several occasions to follow antimicrobial therapy in persons suspected of having sepsis.

  • What does the test result mean?

    Low levels of procalcitonin in a seriously ill person indicates a low risk of sepsis and unlikely progression to severe sepsis and/or septic shock but do not exclude it. Low concentrations may suggest a local infection that has not yet spread to the whole of the body and become systemic or a systemic infection that is less than six hours old. It may also indicate that the person's symptoms are likely due to another cause, such as transplant rejection, a viral infection, or trauma – post-surgery or otherwise.

    High levels indicate a high possibility of sepsis, that is, a higher likelihood of a  bacterial cause for the symptoms. They also suggest a higher risk of progression to severe sepsis and then to septic shock.

    Moderate elevations may be due to a non-infectious condition or due to an early infection and, along with other findings, should be reviewed carefully. Decreasing procalcitonin levels in a person being treated for a severe bacterial infection indicate a response to therapy.

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    The procalcitonin test is not a replacement for other laboratory tests. Rather it is additional information that help earlier treatment.

    Early detection of systemic bacterial infections, including bacterial pneumonia and bacterial meningitis, is important because they can be life-threatening and can be readily treated. However, the inappropriate use of antibiotics in cases where the illness is not bacterial in origin may cause delays in proper treatment, can encourage the development of antibiotic resistant organisms, and is unnecessarily costly.

    The procalcitonin test is being studied in additional populations, expanding beyond critically ill ITU patients. As more data are gathered, the clinical usefulness of procalcitonin will be better understood and its intended use(s) more fully defined.

  • Should a procalcitonin test be performed every time a person is seriously ill?

    No, it is generally only indicated when someone is seriously ill and the doctor suspects that the person may have sepsis or a severe bacterial infection.