What is a Hemoccult&Reg; Test?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A Hemoccult® test is a medical test used to check for hidden blood in the stool. Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract can sometimes occur at a very low level, without any visible blood in the stool. Catching bleeds when they are relatively small can be important for providing prompt and appropriate medical treatment to patients with gastrointestinal bleeds. Patients can collect samples at home or have samples collected at a clinic or hospital.

Stool samples that are collected at home are usually placed into plastic containers.
Stool samples that are collected at home are usually placed into plastic containers.

The Hemoccult® is one among a family of tests known as fecal occult blood tests (FOBT). The “occult” in the name refers not to esoteric religious practices, but rather to the hidden nature of blood associated with small bleeds. These tests can be designed in a number of different ways and the Hemoccult® tests rely on a substance called guaiac, which responds to heme in the blood. These tests are not as sensitive as newer tests that search for globin in the stool.

A stool test can be used to check for the presence of gastrointestinal problems.
A stool test can be used to check for the presence of gastrointestinal problems.

To use a Hemocult® test, patients or clinicians smear a small stool sample onto a paper card and drip hydrogen peroxide on the sample. If heme is present, it will react to quickly oxidize the guaiac and cause a rapid color change. If it is not, a color change will still occur, but much more slowly. This test allows doctors to identify blood loss levels as low as a few teaspoons a day. It is possible to have a false negative if patients are losing less blood than this or if a sample happens to be taken from a relatively clean stool.

An endoscopy may be performed to look for gastrointestinal bleeds.
An endoscopy may be performed to look for gastrointestinal bleeds.

This test can also react to certain dietary factors, red meat in particular. Patients may be directed to comply with fasting instructions before a sample is taken, depending on the version of the Hemoccult® test used. It is important to comply with these directions to avoid getting a false positive on the test.

Hemoccult tests are a fast and inexpensive way to screen patients for conditions such polyps, cancer and other bowel diseases.
Hemoccult tests are a fast and inexpensive way to screen patients for conditions such polyps, cancer and other bowel diseases.

Using Hemoccult® tests is a fast and inexpensive way to screen patients for gastrointestinal bleeds associated with conditions like polyps, cancer, and other bowel diseases. This allows a doctor to determine if additional testing, such as endoscopy to look for bleeding sites, is needed. The test is not recommended for patients with obviously bloody stool, as the presence of blood confirms the presence of a bleed and indicates that it is advisable to move directly to diagnostic tools to find and treat the bleed. If people find blood in their stool, they should contact a doctor immediately.

The Hemoccult Test may react to red meat, among other dietary factors.
The Hemoccult Test may react to red meat, among other dietary factors.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Rundocuri
The hemoccult test is often recommended to a patient who is experiencing mild digestive symptoms and is under age 50. This easy test determines if blood in present in the stool and if further, more extensive tests are needed. Though it doesn't sound pleasant, it is easy and effective.
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