Stool Test: Giardia Antigen

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What It Is

The Giardia lamblia parasite is one of the chief causes of diarrhea in the United States. It lives in the gastrointestinal (GI) system and passes from the body in stool (feces).

In a Giardia antigen test, a stool sample is checked for the presence of Giardia.

Why It's Done

The Giardia antigen test is used to make a diagnosis of giardiasis, the digestive tract illness caused by Giardia lamblia. A doctor may order the test if your child has symptoms such as watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, large amounts of intestinal gas, appetite loss, and nausea or vomiting, especially if there's been an outbreak of giardiasis at your child's school or daycare center, your child recently drank untreated water, or if your family recently visited a developing country. The test also may be used to determine if treatment for giardiasis has been effective.

The test may be ordered by itself or in combination with an ova and parasite exam (a microscopic evaluation of stool for the presence of parasites). The antigen test is more sensitive in detecting Giardia lamblia than the ova and parasite (O&P) exam, but it can't identify any other organisms or conditions that cause gastrointestinal distress.

Preparation

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.

If possible, your child may be asked to avoid certain foods and treatments for 2 weeks before the test, including:

  • antidiarrheal drugs
  • antibiotics and antiparasite drugs
  • enemas

Procedure

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 can also 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 the bowel movement so the stool sample isn't diluted by urine.
  • 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. If this isn't possible, the stool should be stored in preservative provided by the lab and then taken there as soon as possible.

What to Expect

After the sample arrives at the laboratory, a technician puts a stool sample in contact with a chemical that changes color in the presence of products of the Giardia lamblia parasite. It's important to remember that the Gardia antigen test detects the presence of only that specific parasite, so the doctor may order additional tests to reach a definitive diagnosis.

Getting the Results

In general, the result of the Giardia antigen test is reported within a day.

Risks

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 Giardia antigen test, speak with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011



Related Resources

OrganizationAmerican 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
(312) 464-5000
OrganizationCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.
OrganizationAmerican 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.


Related Articles

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: C. Difficile Toxin 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.
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.
Giardiasis Giardiasis, one of the chief causes of diarrhea in the United States, is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite.
Diarrhea Most kids battle diarrhea from time to time, so it's important to know what to do to relieve and even prevent it.




Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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