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.
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:
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.
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.
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 about the C. difficile toxin stool test, speak with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011
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