What It Is
A stool (feces) sample can provide doctors with valuable information about what's going on when someone has a problem in the stomach, intestines, rectum, or other part of the gastrointestinal (GI) system.
The intestines naturally contain a variety of bacteria, many of which help the body to digest food. Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is one of many bacteria commonly found in the intestines and stool of infants and children. C. difficile is normally harmless, but certain varieties may produce toxins (harmful substances) if the bacterial balance in the colon is disrupted. This might happen as a result of antibiotic treatment, chemotherapy, or intestinal disorders.
Why It's Done
A doctor may request a C. difficile toxin stool test if your child has taken antibiotics in the past month or so and has had diarrhea for several days, possibly accompanied by abdominal pain, poor appetite, and fever.
Unlike most other lab tests, a stool sample is often collected by parents at home, not by health care professionals at a hospital or clinic.
The doctor or hospital laboratory will usually provide written instructions on how to collect a stool sample. If instructions aren't provided, here are tips for collecting a stool sample from your child:
- Be sure to wear latex gloves and wash your hands and your child's hands afterward.
- Many kids with diarrhea, especially young kids, can't always let a parent know in advance when a bowel movement is coming. So a hat-shaped plastic lid is used to collect the stool specimen. This catching device can be quickly placed over a toilet bowl, or under your child's bottom, to collect the sample. Using a catching device can prevent contamination of the stool by water and dirt. Another way to collect a stool sample is to loosely place plastic wrap over the seat of the toilet. Then place the stool sample in a clean, sealable container before taking it to the lab.
- Plastic wrap also can be used to line the diaper of an infant or toddler who isn't yet using the toilet. The wrap should be placed so that urine runs into the diaper, not the wrap.
- Your child shouldn't urinate into the container, and if possible, should empty his or her bladder before a bowel movement.
- The stool should be collected into a clean, dry plastic jar with a screw-cap lid. For best results, the stool should be brought to the lab right away because C. difficile toxins break down quickly at room temperature, making them difficult to detect. If this isn't possible, the stool should be refrigerated and then taken to the lab as soon as possible. Carefully follow any directions given to you by the lab.
What to Expect
When the sample arrives at the laboratory, a technician tests the stool for C. difficile toxins by putting it in contact with a chemical that changes color in their presence.
Getting the Results
In general, the results of the C. difficile toxin stool test are reported within a few hours to a day. Repeat tests may be ordered to confirm the results.
No risks are associated with collecting stool samples.
Helping Your Child
Collecting a stool sample is painless. Tell your child that collecting the stool won't hurt, but it has to be done carefully. A child who's old enough might be able to collect the sample alone to avoid embarrassment. Tell your child how to do this properly.
If You Have Questions
If you have questions about the C. difficile toxin stool test, speak with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011
|American Medical Association (AMA) The AMA has made a commitment to medicine by making doctors more accessible to their patients. Contact the AMA at: American Medical Association|
515 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60610
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The mission of the CDC is to promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability. Call: (800) CDC-INFO|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|Stool Test: Ova and Parasites (O&P) This exam may be done if your child has diarrhea for an extended period, blood or mucus in the stool, abdominal pain, nausea, headaches, or fever.|
|Stool Tests Your child's doctor may order a stool collection test to check for blood, bacteria, ova, or parasites. Find out how this test is performed and when you can expect the results.|
|Stool Test: Fecal Blood Stool samples can provide information about a problem in the GI system. To test the stool for the presence of blood, a noninvasive test - the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) - is performed.|
|Stool Test: Giardia Antigen This test may be done if a child has watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, large amounts of intestinal gas, appetite loss, and nausea or vomiting.|
|Stool Test: H. Pylori Antigen A doctor may request an H. pylori antigen stool test if your child has symptoms that indicate a peptic ulcer, such as indigestion, abdominal pain, a full or bloated feeling, nausea, frequent belching, or vomiting.|
|Stool Test: Bacteria Culture A stool culture helps doctors determine if there's a bacterial infection in the intestines.|
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2012 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.