Stool Exam

Stool Exam: Overview

Stool analysis is useful in diagnosing many different conditions.

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Why it is Recommended

Stool analysis is used for the following:

  • Diagnosing diseases of the digestive tract, liver, and pancreas.  Certain enzymes (such as trypsin or elastase) may be evaluated in the stool to help determine how well the pancreas is functioning.
  • Determining the cause of symptoms affecting the digestive tract, including prolonged diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, an increased amount of gas, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, bloating, abdominal pain and cramping, and fever.
  • Screening for colorectal cancer by checking for hidden (occult) blood.
  • Detecting the presence of parasites, such as pinworms or Giardia lamblia.
  • Detecting and identifying certain types of bacteria that can cause disease.  This test is called a stool culture and can also be used to detect an infection caused by a fungus or virus.
  • Detecting poor absorption of nutrients by the digestive tract (malabsorption syndrome).  For this test, all stool is collected over a 72-hour period and then analyzed for the presence of fat and meat fibres.  The presence of fat may indicate a malabsorption problem.  This test is called a 72-hour stool collection or quantitative fecal fat test.

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Both qualitative and quantitative tests are used to identify excessive fecal fat.  The qualitative test involves staining a specimen of stool with a special dye, then examining it microscopically for evidence of malabsorption, such as undigested muscle fiber and various fats.  The quantitative test involves drying and weighing a 72-hour stool specimen, then using an extraction technique to separate the fats, which are subsequently evaporated and weighed.  This measurement of the total output of fecal fat per 24 hours in a three-day specimen is the most reliable test for steatorrhea.

This test requires a 72-hour stool collection.  The patient should abstain from alcohol during this time and maintain a high-fat diet (100gm/day) for three days before the test, and during the collection period.  The patient should call the laboratory for instructions on how to collect the specimen.

Short Bowel Syndrome

Undigested fat in stools is one indicator of short bowel syndrome.

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