What Is a Stool Test?

Meshell Powell

A stool test is a medical procedure in which a small sample of feces is collected and tested for abnormalities such as infection or the presence of blood. Intestinal parasites, colon cancer, or lactose intolerance can often be diagnosed as the result of a stool test. In most cases, the sample is collected at home and then transported to the doctor's office or laboratory, although the sample may occasionally be collected by a member of the medical staff. If the sample is to be collected at home, the medical staff will provide detailed instructions on how to properly collect and store the sample. Any questions or concerns about the stool test should be discussed with the supervising physician.

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.

In many cases, a doctor will order a stool test if a person is suspected of having food poisoning. If the stool sample contains certain types of bacteria and can be traced back to a particular food, the food can be removed from circulation so that other people do not become sick. Parasitic infections can also be diagnosed through the use of a stool test. Once the type of parasite is identified, proper treatment can begin.

Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed via stool test.
Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed via stool test.

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If a stool test reveals blood in the fecal matter, it could indicate the presence of a tear in the rectal area, damage involving the stomach or intestines, or the presence of colon cancer. Further tests, such as ultrasounds or biopsies, may be performed based on the results from this test. Some stool tests, particularly those designed to test for colon cancer, can often be performed at home and mailed to an outside lab. The results are sent back to the patient within a few days or weeks. Any abnormal results should prompt a follow-up visit with a doctor.

A stool test can be used to identify parasites in the intestinal tract.
A stool test can be used to identify parasites in the intestinal tract.

Stool samples that are collected at home are usually placed into plastic containers that are provided by the ordering physician. The samples are then dropped off at the doctor's office or laboratory as directed by the medical staff. If it is not possible to drop off the sample immediately after collection, it should be refrigerated until it is ready to be dropped off. In cases where the doctor provides specific instructions on collecting and storing the samples for the stool test, they should be followed carefully. After the doctor has the results of the test, an individualized treatment plan can be developed based upon the specific needs of the patient.

A doctor may order a stool test if they suspect a patient has food poisoning.
A doctor may order a stool test if they suspect a patient has food poisoning.
Colon cancer may be diagnosed from a stool test.
Colon cancer may be diagnosed from a stool test.

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