A stool (feces) sample can provide doctors with valuable information about what's going on when your child has a problem in the stomach, intestines, rectum, or other part of the gastrointestinal (GI) system. One of the most common reasons to collect a sample is to determine if there's blood in the stool.
Sometimes harmful bacteria or parasites can cause a variety of conditions, such as bloody diarrhea. It may be necessary to examine the stool under a microscope and perform other tests to find the cause of the problem.
To test the stool for the presence of blood, a noninvasive test called the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) is performed. The test detects hidden (occult) blood in the stool — blood that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Blood may come from any part of the digestive tract, from the esophagus to the anal area. Sometimes, blood detected in the stool can come from swallowed blood if the child has had bleeding from the mouth, throat or nose.
A doctor may request a fecal occult blood test to look for blood that's present due to causes such as:
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.
For a week before the test, your child may be asked to avoid certain foods and medications such as:
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:
When the sample arrives at the laboratory, it's checked for blood by placing a smear of the stool on special paper. A chemical solution called guiac is then placed on the paper with the stool smear. If the paper turns blue, this means there's blood in the stool.
In general, the result of the fecal occult blood test is reported within a day.
No risks are associated with collecting stool samples.
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 is old enough might be able to collect the sample alone to avoid embarrassment. Instruct your child how to do this properly.
If you have questions about the fecal occult blood test, speak with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011
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