Published in Clinical Pathology
Friday, 08 September 2017 01:21
Anatomically, stomach is divided into four parts: cardia, fundus, body, and pyloric part. Cardia is the upper part surrounding the entrance of the esophagus and is lined by the mucus-secreting epithelium. The epithelium of the fundus and the body of the stomach is composed of different cell types including: (i) mucus-secreting cells which protect gastric mucosa from self-digestion by forming an overlying thick layer of mucus, (ii) parietal cells which secrete hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor, and (iii) peptic cells or chief cells which secrete the proteolytic enzyme pepsinogen. Pyloric part is divided into pyloric antrum and pyloric canal. It is lined by mucus-secreting cells and gastrin-secreting neuroendocrine cells (G cells) (Figure 859.1).
Figure 859.1 Parts of stomach and their lining cells
Figure 859.1 Parts of stomach and their lining cells 
In the stomach, ingested food is mechanically and chemically broken down to form semi-digested liquid called chyme. Following relaxation of pyloric sphincter, chyme passes into the duodenum.
There are three phases of gastric acid secretion: cephalic, gastric, and intestinal.
  • Cephalic or neurogenic phase: This phase is initiated by the sight, smell, taste, or thought of food that causes stimulation of vagal nuclei in the brain. Vagus nerve directly stimulates parietal cells to secrete acid; in addition, it also stimulates antral G cells to secrete gastrin in blood (which is also a potent stimulus for gastric acid secretion) (Figure 859.2). Cephalic phase is abolished by vagotomy.
  • Gastric phase: Entry of swallowed food into the stomach causes gastric distension and induces gastric phase. Distension of antrum and increase in pH due to neutralization of acid by food stimulate antral G cells to secrete gastrin into the circulation. Gastrin, in turn, causes release of hydrochloric acid from parietal cells.
  • Intestinal phase: Entry of digested proteins into the duodenum causes an increase in acid output from the stomach. It is thought that certain hormones and absorbed amino acids stimulate parietal cells to secrete acid.
The secretion from the stomach is called as gastric juice. The chief constituents of the gastric juice are:
  • Hydrochloric acid (HCl): This is secreted by the parietal cells of the fundus and the body of the stomach. HCl provides the high acidic pH necessary for activation of pepsinogen to pepsin. Gastric acid secretion is stimulated by histamine, acetylcholine, and gastrin (Figure 859.2). HCl kills most microorganisms entering the stomach and also denatures proteins (breaks hydrogen bonds making polypeptide chains to unfold). Its secretion is inhibited by somatostatin (secreted by D cells in pancreas and by mucosa of intestine), gastric inhibitory peptide (secreted by K cells in duodenum and jejunum), prostaglandin, and secretin (secreted by S cells in duodenum).
  • Pepsin: Pepsin is secreted by chief cells in stomach. Pepsin causes partial digestion of proteins leading to the formation of large polypeptide molecules (optimal function at pH 1.0 to 3.0). Its secretion is enhanced by vagal stimulation.
  • Mucus
  • Intrinsic factor (IF): IF is necessary for absorption of vitamin B12 in the terminal ileum. It is secreted by parietal cells of stomach.
Figure 859.2 Stimulation of gastric acid secretion
Figure 859.2 Stimulation of gastric acid secretion. Three receptors on parietal cells stimulate acid secretion: histamine (H2) receptor, acetylcholine or cholinergic receptor, and gastrin/CCK-B receptor. Histamine is released by enterochromaffin-like cells in lamina propria. Acetylcholine is released from nerve endings. Gastrin is released from G cells in antrum (in response to amino acids in food, antral distention, and gastrin-releasing peptide). After binding to receptors, H+ is secreted in exchange for K+ by proton pump


Published in Clinical Pathology
Thursday, 07 September 2017 23:53
  • Gastric intubation for gastric analysis is contraindicated in esophageal stricture or varices, active nasopharyngeal disease, diverticula, malignancy, recent history of severe gastric hemorrhage, hypertension, aortic aneurysm, cardiac arrhythmias, congestive cardiac failure, or non-cooperative patient.
  • Pyloric stenosis: Obstruction of gastric outlet can elevate gastric acid output due to raised gastrin (following antral distension).
  • Pentagastrin stimulation is contraindicated in cases with allergy to pentagastrin, and recent severe gastric hemorrhge due to peptic ulcer disease.
Gastric analysis is not a commonly performed procedure because of following reasons:
  • It is an invasive and cumbersome technique that is traumatic and unpleasant for the patient.
  • Information obtained is not diagnostic in itself.
  • Availability of better tests for diagnosis such as endoscopy and radiology (for suspected peptic ulcer or malignancy); serum gastrin estimation (for ZE syndrome); vitamin assays, Schilling test, and antiparietal cell antibodies (for pernicious anemia); and tests for Helicobacter pylori infection (in duodenal or gastric ulcer).
  • Availability of better medical line of treatment that obviates need for surgery in many patients.


Published in Clinical Pathology
Thursday, 07 September 2017 23:53
  1. Hollander’s test (Insulin hypoglycemia test): In the past, this test was used for confirmation of completeness of vagotomy (done for duodenal ulcer).

    Hypoglycemia is a potent stimulus for gastric acid secretion and is mediated by vagus nerve. This response is abolished by vagotomy.

    In this test, after determining BAO, insulin is administered intravenously (0.15-0.2 units/kg) and acid output is estimated every 15 minutes for 2 hours (8 post-stimulation samples). Vagotomy is considered as complete if, after insulin-induced hypoglycemia (blood glucose < 45 mg/dl), no acid output is observed within 45 minutres.

    The test gives reliable results only if blood glucose level falls below 50 mg/dl at some time following insulin injection. It is best carried out after 3-6 months of vagotomy.

    The test is no longer recommended because of the risk associated with hypoglycemia. Myocardial infarction, shock, and death have also been reported.

  2. Fractional test meal: In the past, test meals (e.g. oat meal gruel, alcohol) were administered orally to stimulate gastric secretion and determine MAO or PAO. Currently, parenteral pentagastrin is the gastric stimulant of choice.

  3. Tubeless gastric analysis: This is an indirect and rapid method for determining output of free hydrochloric acid in gastric juice. In this test, a cationexchange resin tagged to a dye (azure A) is orally administered. In the stomach, the dye is displaced from the resin by the free hydrogen ions of the hydrochloric acid. The displaced azure A is absorbed in the small intestine, enters the bloodstream, and is excreted in urine. Urinary concentration of the dye is measured photometrically or by visual comparison with known color standards. The quantity of the dye excreted is proportional to the gastric acid output. However, if kidney or liver function is impaired, false results may be obtained. The test is no longer in use.

  4. Spot check of gastric pH: According to some investigators, spot determination of pH of fasting gastric juice (obtained by nasogastric intubation) can detect the presence of hypochlorhydria (if pH>5.0 in men or >7.0 in women).

  5. Congo red test during esophagogastroduodenoscopy: This test is done to determine the completeness of vagotomy. Congo red dye is sprayed into the stomach during esophagogastroduodenoscopy; if it turns red, it indicates presence of functional parietal cells in stomach with capacity of producing acid.
  • Volume of gastric juice: 20-100 ml
  • Appearance: Clear
  • pH: 1.5 to 3.5
  • Basal acid output: Up to 5 mEq/hour
  • Peak acid output: 1 to 20 mEq/hour
  • Ratio of basal acid output to peak acid output: <0.20 or < 20%


Published in Clinical Pathology
Thursday, 07 September 2017 23:18
In gastric analysis, amount of acid secreted by the stomach is determined on aspirated gastric juice sample. Gastric acid output is estimated before and after stimulation of parietal cells (i.e. basal and peak acid output). This test was introduced in the past mainly for the evaluation of peptic ulcer disease (to assess the need for operative intervention). However, diminishing frequency of peptic ulcer disease and availability of safe and effective medical treatment have markedly reduced the role of surgery.
  1. To determine the cause of recurrent peptic ulcer disease:
    To detect Zollinger-Ellison (ZE) syndrome: ZE syndrome is a rare disorder in which multiple mucosal ulcers develop in the stomach, duodenum, and upper jejunum due to gross hypersecretion of acid in the stomach. The cause of excess secretion of acid is a gastrin-producing tumor of pancreas. Gastric analysis is done to detect markedly increased basal and pentagastrinstimulated gastric acid output for diagnosis of ZE syndrome (and also to determine response to acidsuppressant therapy). However, a more sensitive and specific test for diagnosis of ZE syndrome is measurement of serum gastrin (fasting and secretin-stimulated).
    To decide about completeness of vagotomy following surgery for peptic ulcer disease: See Hollander’s test.
  2. To determine the cause of raised fasting serum gastrin level: Hypergastrinemia can occur in achlorhydria, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, and antral G cell hyperplasia.
  3. To support the diagnosis of pernicious anemia (PA): Pernicious anemia is caused by defective absorption of vitamin B12 due to failure of synthesis of intrinsic factor secondary to gastric mucosal atrophy. There is also absence of hydrochloric acid in the gastric juice (achlorhydria). Gastric analysis is done for demonstration of achlorhydria if facilities for vitamin assays and Schilling’s test are not available (Achlorhydria by itself is insufficient for diagnosis of PA).
  4. To distinguish between benign and malignant ulcer: Hypersecretion of acid is a feature of duodenal peptic ulcer, while failure of acid secretion (achlorhydria) occurs in gastric carcinoma. However, anacidity occurs only in a small proportion of cases with advanced gastric cancer. Also, not all patients with duodenal ulcer show increased acid output.
  5. To measure the amount of acid secreted in a patient with symptoms of peptic ulcer dyspepsia but normal X-ray findings: Excess acid secretion in such cases is indicative of duodenal ulcer. However, hypersecretion of acid does not always occur in duodenal ulcer.
  6. To decide the type of surgery to be performed in a patient with peptic ulcer: Raised basal as well as peak acid outputs indicate increased parietal cell mass and need for gastrectomy. Raised basal acid output with normal peak output is an indication for vagotomy.


Published in Clinical Pathology
Tuesday, 05 September 2017 23:51
To assess gastric acid secretion, acid output from the stomach is measured in a fasting state and after injection of a drug which stimulates gastric acid secretion.
Basal acid output (BAO) is the amount of hydrochloric acid (HCl) secreted in the absence of any external stimuli (visual, olfactory, or auditory).
Maximum acid output (MAO) is the amount of hydrochloric acid secreted by the stomach following stimulation by pentagastrin. MAO is calculated from the first four 15-minute samples after stimulation.
Peak acid output (PAO) is calculated from the two highest consecutive 15-minute samples. It indicates greatest possible acid secretory capacity and is preferred over MAO as it is more reproducible.
Acidity is estimated by titration.
Collection of Sample
All drugs that affect gastric acid secretion (e.g. antacids, anticholinergics, cholinergics, H2-receptor antagonists, antihistamines, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors) should be withheld for 24 hours before the test. Proton pump inhibitors should be discontinued 5 days prior to the test. Patient should be relaxed and free from all sources of sensory stimulation.
Patient should drink or eat nothing after midnight.
Gastric juice can be aspirated through an oral or nasogastric tube (polyvinyl chloride, silicone, or polyurethane) or during endoscopy.
Oral or nasogastric tube (Figure 855.1) is commonly used. It is a flexible tube having a small diameter and a bulbous end that is made heavy by a small weight of lead. The end is perforated with small holes to allow entry of gastric juice into the tube. As the end is radiopaque, the tube can be positioned in the most dependent part of the stomach under fluoroscopic or X-ray guidance. The tube is lubricated and can be introduced either through the mouth or the nose. The patient is either sitting or reclining on left side. The tube has three or four markings on its outer surface that correspond with distance of the tip of the tube from the teeth, i.e. 40 cm (tip to cardioesophageal junction), 50 cm (body of stomach), 57 cm (pyloric antrum), and 65 cm (duodenum). The position of the tube can be verified either by fluoroscope or by ‘water recovery test’. In the latter test, 50 ml of water is introduced through the tube and aspirated again; recovery of > 90% of water is indicative of proper placement. The tube is usually positioned in the antrum. A syringe is attached to the outer end of the tube for the aspiration of gastric juice.
Figure 855.1 Oral or nasogastric Ryles tube
Figure 855.1 Oral or nasogastric Ryle’s tube. The tube is marked at 40, 50, 57, and 65 cm with radiopaque lines for accurate placement. The tip is bulbous and contains a small weight of lead to assist the passage during intubation and to know the position under fluoroscopy or X-ray guidance. There are four perforations or eyes to aspirate contents from the stomach through a syringe attached to the base
For estimation of BAO, sample is collected in the morning after 12-hour overnight fast. Gastric secretion that has accumulated overnight is aspirated and discarded. This is followed by aspiration of gastric secretions at 15-minute intervals for 1 hour (i.e. total 4 consecutive samples are collected). All the samples are centrifuged to remove any particulate matter. Each 15-minute sample is analyzed for volume, pH, and acidity. The acid output in the four samples is totaled and the result is expressed as concentration of acid in milliequivalents per hour or in mmol per hour.
After the collection of gastric juice for determination of BAO, patient is given a subcutaneous or intramuscular injection of pentagastrin (6 μg/kg of body weight), and immediately afterwards, gastric secretions are aspirated at 15-minute intervals for 1 hour (for estimation of MAO or PAO). MAO is calculated from the first four 15-minute samples after stimulation. PAO is calculated from two consecutive 15-minute samples showing highest acidity.
Box 855.1 Determination of basal acid output, maximum acid output, and peak acid output
  • Basal acid output (BAO)= Total acid content in all four 15-minute basal samples in mEq/L
  • Maximum acid output (MAO) = Total acid content in all four 15-minute post-pentagastrin samples in mEq/L
  • Peak acid output (PAO) = Sum of two consecutive 15-minute post-pentagastrin samples showing highest acidity ×2 (mEq/L)
Gastric acidity is estimated by titration, with the end point being determined either by noting the change in color of the indicator solution or till the desired pH is reached.
In titration, a solution of alkali (0.1 N sodium hydroxide) is added from a graduated vessel (burette) to a known volume of acid (i.e. gastric juice) till the end point or equivalence point of reaction is reached. The concentration of acid is then determined from the concentration and volume of alkali required to neutralize the particular volume of gastric juice. Concentration of acid is expressed in terms of milliequivalents per liter or mmol per liter.
Free acidity refers to the concentration of HCl present in a free, uncombined form in a solution. The volume of alkali added to the gastric juice till the Topfer’s reagent (an indicator added earlier to the gastric juice) changes color or when the pH (as measured by the pH meter) reaches 3.5 is a measure of free acidity. A screening test can be carried out for the presence of free HCl in the gastric juice. If red color develops after addition of a drop of Topfer’s reagent to an aliquot of gastric juice, free HCl is present and the diagnosis of pernicious anaemia (achlorhydria) can be excluded.
Combined acidity refers to the amount of HCl combined with proteins and mucin and also includes small amount of weak acids present in gastric juice.
Total acidity is the sum of free and combined acidity. The amount of alkali added to the gastric juice till phenolphthalein indicator (added earlier to the gastric juice) changes color is a measure of total acidity (Box 855.1).
Interpretation of Results
  1. Volume: Normal total volume is 20-100 ml (usually < 50 ml). Causes of increased volume of gastric juice are—
    • Delayed emptying of stomach: pyloric stenosis
    • Increased gastric secretion: duodenal ulcer, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
  2. Color: Normal gastric secretion is colorless, with a faintly pungent odor. Fresh blood (due to trauma, or recent bleeding from ulcer or cancer) is red in color. Old hemorrhage produces a brown, coffee-ground like appearance (due to formation of acid hematin). Bile regurgitation produces a yellow or green color.
  3. pH: Normal pH is 1.5 to 3.5. In pernicious anemia, pH is greater than 7.0 due to absence of HCl.
  4. Basal acid output:
    • Normal: Up to 5 mEq/hour.
    • Duodenal ulcer: 5-15 mEq/hour.
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: >20 mEq/hour.
    Normal BAO is seen in gastric ulcer and in some patients with duodenal ulcer.
  5. Peak acid output:
    • Normal: 1-20 mEq/hour.
    • Duodenal ulcer: 20-60 mEq/hour.
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: > 60 mEq/hour.
    • Achlorhydria: 0 mEq/hour.
    Normal PAO is seen in gastric ulcer and gastric carcinoma. Values up to 60 mEq/hour can occur in some normal individuals and in some patients with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
    In pernicious anemia, there is no acid output due to gastric mucosal atrophy. Achlorhydria should be diagnosed only if there is no free HCl even after maximum stimulation.
  6. Ratio of basal acid output to peak acid output (BAO/PAO):
    • Normal: < 0.20 (or < 20%).
    • Gastric or duodenal ulcer: 0.20-0.40 (20-40%).
    • Duodenal ulcer: 0.40-0.60 (40-60%).
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: > 0.60 (> 60%).
    Normal values occur in gastric ulcer or gastric carcinoma.
Conditions associated with change in gastric acid output are listed in Table 855.1.
It is to be noted that values of acid output are not diagnostic by themselves and should be correlated with clinical, radiological, and endoscopic features.
Table 855.1 Causes of alterations in gastric acid output
Increased gastric acid output Decreased gastric acid output
• Duodenal ulcer Chronic atrophic gastritis
• Zollinger-Ellison syndrome     1. Pernicious anemia
Hyperplasia of antral G cells     2. Rheumatoid arthritis
Systemic mastocytosis     3. Thyrotoxicosis
• Basophilic leukemia • Gastric ulcer
  • Gastric carcinoma
  • Chronic renal failure
  • Post-vagotomy
  • Post-antrectomy


Published in Clinical Pathology
Wednesday, 30 August 2017 23:26
Microscopic examinations done on fecal sample are shown in Figure 846.1.
Figure 846.1 Microscopic examinations carried out on fecal sample
Figure 846.1 Microscopic examinations carried out on fecal sample
Collection of Specimen for Parasites
A random specimen of stool (at least 4 ml or 4 cm³) is collected in a clean, dry, container with a tightly fitting lid (a tin box, plastic box, glass jar, or waxed cardboard box) and transported immediately to the laboratory (this is because trophozoites of Entameba histolytica rapidly degenerate and alter in morphology). About 20-40 grams of formed stool or 5-6 tablespoons of watery stool should be collected. Stool should not be contaminated with urine, water, soil, or menstrual blood. Urine and water destroy trophozoites; soil will introduce extraneous organisms and also hinder proper examination. Parasites are best detected in warm, freshly passed stools and therefore stools should be examined as early as possible after receipt in the laboratory (preferably within 1 hour of collection). If delay in examination is anticipated, sample may be refrigerated. A fixative containing 10% formalin (for preservation of eggs, larvae, and cysts) or polyvinyl alcohol (for preservation of trophozoites and cysts, and for permanent staining) may be used if specimen is to be transported to a distant laboratory.
One negative report for ova and parasites does not exclude the possibility of infection. Three separate samples, collected at 3-day intervals, have been recommended to detect all parasite infections.
Patient should not be receiving oily laxatives, antidiarrheal medications, bismuth, antibiotics like tetracycline, or antacids for 7 days before stool examination. Patient should not have undergone a barium swallow examination.
In the laboratory, macroscopic examination is done for consistency (watery, loose, soft or formed) (Figure 846.2), color, odor, and presence of blood, mucus, adult worms or segments of tapeworms.
Figure 846.2 Consistency of feces
Figure 846.2 Consistency of feces
Trophozoites are most likely to be found in loose or watery stools or in stools containing blood and mucus, while cysts are likely to be found in formed stools. Trophozoites die soon after being passed and therefore such stools should be examined within 1 hour of passing. Examination of formed stools can be delayed but should be completed on the same day.
Color/Appearance of Fecal Specimens
  • Brown: Normal
  • Black: Bleeding in upper gastrointestinal tract (proximal to cecum), Drugs (iron salts, bismuth salts, charcoal)
  • Red: Bleeeding in large intestine, undigested tomatoes or beets
  • Clay-colored (gray-white): Biliary obstruction
  • Silvery: Carcinoma of ampulla of Vater
  • Watery: Certain strains of Escherichia coli, Rotavirus enteritis, cryptosporidiosis
  • Rice water: Cholera
  • Unformed with blood and mucus: Amebiasis, inflammatory bowel disease
  • Unformed with blood, mucus, and pus: Bacillary dysentery
  • Unformed, frothy, foul smelling, which float on water: Steatorrhea.
Preparation of Slides
After receipt in the laboratory, saline and iodine wet mounts of the sample are prepared (Figure 846.3).
Figure 846.3 Saline and iodine wet mounts of fecal sample
Figure 846.3 Saline and iodine wet mounts of fecal sample 
A drop of normal saline is placed near one end of a glass slide and a drop of Lugol iodine solution is placed near the other end. A small amount of feces (about the size of a match-head) is mixed with a drop each of saline and iodine using a wire loop, and a cover slip is placed over each preparation separately. If the specimen contains blood or mucus, that portion should be included for examination (trophozoites are more readily found in mucus). If the stools are liquid, select the portion from the surface for examination.
Saline wet mount is used for demonstration of eggs and larvae of helminths, and trophozoites and cysts of protozoa. It can also detect red cells and white cells. Iodine stains glycogen and nuclei of the cysts. The iodine wet mount is useful for identification of protozoal cysts. Trophozoites become non-motile in iodine mounts. A liquid, diarrheal stool can be examined directly without adding saline.
Concentration Procedure
Concentration of fecal specimen is useful if very small numbers of parasites are present. However, in concentrated specimens, amebic trophozoites can no longer be detected since they are destroyed. If wet mount examination is negative and there is clinical suspicion of parasitic infection, fecal concentration is indicated. It is used for detection of ova, cysts, and larvae of parasites.
Various concentration methods are available; the choice depends on the nature of parasites to be identified and the equipment/reagent available in a particular laboratory. Concentration techniques are of two main types:
  • Sedimentation techniques: Ova and cysts settle at the bottom. However, excessive fecal debris may make the detection of parasites difficult. Example: Formolethyl acetate sedimentation procedure.
  • Floatation techniques: Ova and cysts float on surface. However, some ova and cysts do not float at the top in this procedure. Examples: Saturated salt floatation technique and zinc sulphate concentration technique.
The most commonly used sedimentation method is formol-ethyl acetate concentration method since: (i) it can detect eggs and larvae of almost all helminths, and cysts of protozoa, (ii) it preserves their morphology well, (iii) it is rapid, and (iv) risk of infection to the laboratory worker is minimal because pathogens are killed by formalin.
In this method, fecal suspension is prepared in 10% formalin (10 ml formalin + 1 gram feces). This suspension is then passed through a gauze filter till 7 ml of filtered material is obtained. To this, ethyl acetate (3 ml) is added and the mixture is centrifuged for 1 minute. Eggs, larvae, and cysts sediment at the bottom of the centrifuge tube (Figure 846.4). Above this deposit, there are layers of formalin, fecal debris, and ether. Fecal debris is loosened with an applicator stick and the supernatant is poured off. One drop of sediment is placed on one end of a glass slide and one drop is placed at the other end. One of the drops is stained with iodine, cover slips are placed, and the preparation is examined under the microscope.
Figure 846.4 Formol ethyl acetate concentration technique
Figure 846.4 Formol-ethyl acetate concentration technique
Classification of Intestinal Parasites of Humans
Intestinal parasites of humans are classified into two main kingdoms: protozoa and metazoa (helminths) (Figure 846.5).
Figure 846.5 Classification of intestinal parasites of humans
Figure 846.5 Classification of intestinal parasites of humans


Published in Clinical Pathology
Wednesday, 30 August 2017 01:21
Chemical examination of feces is usually carried out for the following tests (Figure 845.1):
  • Occult blood
  • Excess fat excretion (malabsorption)
  • Urobilinogen
  • Reducing sugars
  • Fecal osmotic gap
  • Fecal pH
Figure 845.17 Chemical examinations done on fecal sample
Figure 845.1 Chemical examinations done on fecal sample
Test for Occult Blood in Stools
Presence of blood in feces which is not apparent on gross inspection and which can be detected only by chemical tests is called as occult blood. Causes of occult blood in stools are:
  1. Intestinal diseases: hookworms, amebiasis, typhoid fever, ulcerative colitis, intussusception, adenoma, cancer of colon or rectum.
  2. Gastric and esophageal diseases: peptic ulcer, gastritis, esophageal varices, hiatus hernia.
  3. Systemic disorders: bleeding diathesis, uremia.
  4. Long distance runners.
Occult blood test is recommended as a screening procedure for detection of asymptomatic colorectal cancer. Yearly examinations should be carried out after the age of 50 years. If the test is positive, endoscopy and barium enema are indicated.
Tests for detection of occult blood in feces: Many tests are available which differ in their specificity and sensitivity. These tests include tests based on peroxidase-like activity of hemoglobin (benzidine, orthotolidine, aminophenazone, guaiac), immunochemical tests, and radioisotope tests.
Tests Based on Peroxidase-like Activity of Hemoglobin
Principle: Hemoglobin has peroxidase-like activity and releases oxygen from hydrogen peroxide. Oxygen molecule then oxidizes the chemical reagent (benzidine, orthotolidine, aminophenazone, or guaiac) to produce a colored reaction product.
Benzidine and orthotolidine are carcinogenic and are no longer used. Benzidine test is also highly sensitive and false-positive reactions are common. Since bleeding from the lesion may be intermittent, repeated testing may be required.
Causes of False-positive Tests
  1. Ingestion of peroxidase-containing foods like red meat, fish, poultry, turnips, horseradish, cauliflower, spinach, or cucumber. Diet should be free from peroxidase-containing foods for at least 3 days prior to testing.
  2. Drugs like aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs, which increase blood loss from gastrointestinal tract in normal persons.
Causes of False-negative Tests
  1. Foods containing large amounts of vitamin C.
  2. Conversion of all hemoglobin to acid hematin (which has no peroxidase-like activity) during passage through the gastrointestinal tract.
Immunochemical Tests
These tests specifically detect human hemoglobin. Therefore there is no interference from animal hemoglobin or myoglobin (e.g. meat) or peroxidase-containing vegetables in the diet.
The test consists of mixing the sample with latex particles coated with anti-human haemoglobin antibody, and if agglutination occurs, test is positive. This test can detect 0.6 ml of blood per 100 grams of feces.
Radioisotope Test Using 51Cr
In this test, 10 ml of patient’s blood is withdrawn, labeled with 51Cr, and re-infused intravenously. Radioactivity is measured in fecal sample and in simultaneously collected blood specimen. Radioactivity in feces indicates gastrointestinal bleeding. Amount of blood loss can be calculated. Although the test is sensitive, it is not suitable for routine screening.
Apt test: This test is done to decide whether blood in the vomitus or in the feces of a neonate represents swallowed maternal blood or is the result of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. The test was devised by Dr. Apt and hence the name. The baby swallows blood during delivery or during breastfeeding if nipples are cracked. Apt test is based on the principle that if blood is of neonatal origin it will contain high proportion of hemoglobin F (Hb F) that is resistant to alkali denaturation. On the other hand, maternal blood mostly contains adult hemoglobin or Hb A that is less resistant.
Test for Malabsorption of Fat
Dietary fat is absorbed in the small intestine with the help of bile salts and pancreatic lipase. Fecal fat mainly consists of neutral fats (unsplit fats), fatty acids, and soaps (fatty acid salts). Normally very little fat is excreted in feces (<7 grams/day in adults). Excess excretion of fecal fat indicates malabsorption and is known as steatorrhea. It manifests as bulky, frothy, and foul-smelling stools, which float on the surface of water.
Causes of Malabsorption of Fat
  1. Deficiency of pancreatic lipase (insufficient lipolysis): chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis.
  2. Deficiency of bile salts (insufficient emulsification of fat): biliary obstruction, severe liver disease, bile salt deconjugation due to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.
  3. Diseases of small intestine: tropical sprue, celiac disease, Whipple’s disease.
Tests for fecal fat are qualitative (i.e. direct microscopic examination after fat staining), and quantitative (i.e. estimation of fat by gravimetric or titrimetric analysis).
  1. Microscopic stool examination after staining for fat: A random specimen of stool is collected after putting the patient on a diet of >80 gm fat per day. Stool sample is stained with a fat stain (oil red O, Sudan III, or Sudan IV) and observed under the microscope for fat globules (Figure 845.2). Presence of ≥60 fat droplets/HPF indicates steatorrhea. Ingestion of mineral or castor oil and use of rectal suppositories can cause problems in interpretation.
  2. Quantitative estimation of fecal fat: The definitive test for diagnosis of fat malabsorption is quantitation of fecal fat. Patient should be on a diet of 70-100 gm of fat per day for 6 days before the test. Feces are collected over 72 hours and stored in a refrigerator during the collection period. Specimen should not be contaminated with urine. Fat quantitation can be done by gravimetric or titrimetric method. In gravimetric method, an accurately weighed sample of feces is emulsified, acidified, and fat is extracted in a solvent; after evaporation of solvent, fat is weighed as a pure compound. Titrimetric analysis is the most widely used method. An accurately weighed stool sample is treated with alcoholic potassium hydroxide to convert fat into soaps. Soaps are then converted to fatty acids by the addition of hydrochloric acid. Fatty acids are extracted in a solvent and the solvent is evaporated. The solution of fat made in neutral alcohol is then titrated against sodium hydroxide. Fatty acids comprise about 80% of fecal fat. Values >7 grams/day are usually abnormal. Values >14 grams/day are specific for diseases causing fat malabsorption.
Figure 845.2 Sudan stain on fecal sample
Figure 845.2 Sudan stain on fecal sample: (A) Negative; (B) Positive
Test for Urobilinogen in Feces
Fecal urobilinogen is determined by Ehrlich’s aldehyde test (see  Article “Test for Detection of Urobilinogen in Urine). Specimen should be fresh and kept protected from light. Normal amount of urobilinogen excreted in feces is 50-300 mg per day. Increased fecal excretion of urobilinogen is seen in hemolytic anemia. Urobilinogen is deceased in biliary tract obstruction, severe liver disease, oral antibiotic therapy (disturbance of intestinal bacterial flora), and aplastic anemia (low hemoglobin turnover). Stools become pale or clay-colored if urobilinogen is reduced or absent.
Test for Reducing Sugars
Deficiency of intestinal enzyme lactase is a common cause of malabsorption. Lactase converts lactose (in milk) to glucose and galactose. If lactase is deficient, lactose is converted to lactic acid with production of gas. In infants this leads to diarrhea, vomiting, and failure to thrive. Benedict’s test or Clinitest™ tablet test for reducing sugars is used to test freshly collected stool sample for lactose. In addition, oral lactose tolerance test is abnormal (after oral lactose, blood glucose fails to rise above 20 mg/dl of basal value) in lactase deficiency. Rise in blood glucose indicates that lactose has been hydrolysed and absorbed by the mucosa. Lactose tolerance test is now replaced by lactose breath hydrogen testing. In lactase deficiency, accumulated lactose in the colon is rapidly fermented to organic acids and gases like hydrogen. Hydrogen is absorbed and then excreted through the lungs into the breath. Amount of hydrogen is then measured in breath; breath hydrogen more than 20 ppm above baseline within 4 hours indicates positive test.
Fecal Osmotic Gap
Fecal osmotic gap is calculated from concentration of electrolytes in stool water by formula 290-2([Na+] + [K+]). (290 is the assumed plasma osmolality). In osmotic diarrheas, osmotic gap is >150 mOsm/kg, while in secretory diarrhea, it is typically below 50 mOsm/kg. Evaluation of chronic diarrhea is shown in Figure 845.3.
Figure 845.3 Evaluation of chronic diarrhea
Figure 845.3 Evaluation of chronic diarrhea
Fecal pH
Stool pH below 5.6 is characteristic of carbohydrate malabsorption.


Published in Clinical Pathology
Monday, 28 August 2017 01:46
Tests to Assess Proximal Tubular Function
Renal tubules efficiently reabsorb 99% of the glomerular filtrate to conserve the essential substances like glucose, amino acids, and water.
1. Glycosuria: In renal glycosuria, glucose is excreted in urine, while blood glucose level is normal. This is because of a specific tubular lesion which leads to impairment of glucose reabsorption. Renal glycosuria is a benign condition. Glycosuria can also occur in Fanconi syndrome.
2. Generalized aminoaciduria: In proximal renal tubular dysfunction, many amino acids are excreted in urine due to defective tubular reabsorption.
3. Tubular proteinuria (Low molecular weight proteinuria): Normally, low molecular weight proteins2 –microglobulin, retinol-binding protein, lysozyme, and α1 –microglobulin) are freely filtered by glomeruli and are completely reabsorbed by proximal renal tubules. With tubular damage, these low molecular weight proteins are excreted in urine and can be detected by urine protein electrophoresis. Increased amounts of these proteins in urine are indicative of renal tubular damage.
4. Urinary concentration of sodium: If both BUN and serum creatinine are acutely increased, it is necessary to distinguish between prerenal azotemia (renal underperfusion) and acute tubular necrosis. In prerenal azotemia, renal tubules are functioning normally and reabsorb sodium, while in acute tubular necrosis, tubular function is impaired and sodium absorption is decreased. Therefore, in prerenal azotemia, urinay sodium concentration is < 20 mEq/L while in acute tubular necrosis, it is > 20 mEq/L.
5. Fractional excretion of sodium (FENa): Measurement of urinary sodium concentration is affected by urine volume and can produce misleading results. Therefore, to avoid this, fractional excretion of sodium is calculated. This refers to the percentage of filtered sodium that has been absorbed and percentage that has been excreted. Measurement of fractional sodium excretion is a better indicator of tubular absorption of sodium than quantitation of urine sodium alone.
This test is indicated in acute renal failure. In oliguric patients, this is the most reliable means of early distinction between pre-renal failure and renal failure due to acute tubular necrosis. It is calculated from the following formula:
(Urine sodium × Plasma creatinine) × 100%
(Plasma sodium × Urine creatinine)
In pre-renal failure this ratio is less than 1%, and in acute tubular necrosis it is more than 1%. In pre-renal failure (due to reduced renal perfusion), aldosterone secretion is stimulated which causes maximal sodium conservation by the tubules and the ratio is less than 1%. In acute tubular necrosis, maximum sodium reabsorption is not possible due to tubular cell injury and consequently the ratio will be more than 1%. Values above 3% are strongly suggestive of acute tubular necrosis.
Tests to Assess Distal Tubular Function
1. Urine specific gravity: Normal specific gravity is 1.003 to 1.030. It depends on state of hydration and fluid intake.
  1. Causes of increased specific gravity:
    a. Reduced renal perfusion (with preservation of concentrating ability of tubules),
    b. Proteinuria,
    c. Glycosuria,
    d. Glomerulonephritis.
    e. Urinary tract obstruction.
  2. Causes of reduced specific gravity:
    a. Diabetes insipidus
    b. Chronic renal failure
    c. Impaired concentrating ability due to diseases of tubules.
As a test of renal function, it gives information about the ability of renal tubules to concentrate the glomerular filtrate. This concentrating ability is lost in diseases of renal tubules.
Fixed specific gravity of 1.010, which cannot be lowered or increased by increasing or decreasing the fluid intake respectively, is an indication of chronic renal failure.
2. Urine osmolality: The most commonly employed test to evaluate tubular function is measurement of urine/plasma osmolality. This is the most sensitive method for determination of ability of concentration. Osmolality measures number of dissolved particles in a solution. Specific gravity, on the other hand, is the ratio of mass of a solution to the mass of water i.e. it measures total mass of solute. Specific gravity depends on both the number and the nature of dissolved particles while osmolality is exact number of solute particles in a solution. Specific gravity measurement can be affected by the presence of solutes of large molecular weight like proteins and glucose, while osmolality is not. Therefore measurement of osmolality is preferred.
When solutes are dissolved in a solvent, certain changes take place like lowering of freezing point, increase in boiling point, decrease in vapor pressure, or increase of osmotic pressure of the solvent. These properties are made use of in measuring osmolality by an instrument called as osmometer.
Osmolality is expressed as milliOsmol/kg of water.
Urine/plasma osmolality ratio is helpful in distinguishing pre-renal azotemia (in which ratio is higher) from acute renal failure due to acute tubular necrosis (in which ratio is lower). If urine and plasma osmolality are almost similar, then there is defective tubular reabsorption of water.
3. Water deprivation test: If the value of baseline osmolality of urine is inconclusive, then water deprivation test is performed. In this test, water intake is restricted for a specified period of time followed by measurement of specific gravity or osmolality. Normally, urine osmolality should rise in response to water deprivation. If it fails to rise, then desmopressin is administered to differentiate between central diabetes insipidus and nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. Urinary concentration ability is corrected after administration of desmopressin in central diabetes insipidus, but not in nephrogenic diabetes insipidus.
If urine osmolality is > 800 mOsm/kg of water or specific gravity is ≥1.025 following dehydration, concentrating ability of renal tubules is normal. However, normal result does not rule out presence of renal disease.
False result will be obtained if the patient is on low-salt, low-protein diet or is suffering from major electrolyte and water disturbance.
4. Water loading antidiuretic hormone suppression test: This test assesses the capacity of the kidney to make urine dilute after water loading.
After overnight fast, patient empties the bladder and drinks 20 ml/kg of water in 15-30 minutes. The urine is collected at hourly intervals for the next 4 hours for measurements of urine volume, specific gravity, and osmolality. Plasma levels of antidiuretic hormone and serum osmolality should be measured at hourly intervals.
Normally, more than 90% of water should be excreted in 4 hours. The specific gravity should fall to 1.003 and osmolality should fall to < 100 mOsm/kg. Plasma level of antidiuretic hormone should be appropriate for serum osmolality. In renal function impairment, urine volume is reduced (<80% of fluid intake is excreted) and specific gravity and osmolality fail to decrease. The test is also impaired in adrenocortical insufficiency, malabsorption, obesity, ascites, congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, and dehydration.
This test is not advisable in patients with cardiac failure or kidney disease. If there is failure to excrete water load, fatal hyponatremia can occur.
5. Ammonium chloride loading test (Acid load test): Diagnosis of renal tubular acidosis is usually considered after excluding other causes of metabolic acidosis. This test is considered as a ‘gold standard’ for the diagnosis of distal or type 1 renal tubular acidosis. Urine pH and plasma bicarbonate are measured after overnight fasting. If pH is less than 5.4, acidifying ability of renal tubules is normal. If pH is greater than 5.4 and plasma bicarbonate is low, diagnosis of renal tubular acidosis is confirmed. In both the above cases, further testing need not be performed. In all other cases in which neither of above results is obtained, further testing is carried out. Patient is given ammonium chloride orally (0.1 gm/kg) over 1 hour after overnight fast and urine samples are collected hourly for next 6-8 hours. Ammonium ion dissociates into H+ and NH3. Ammonium chloride makes blood acidic. If pH is less than 5.4 in any one of the samples, acidifying ability of the distal tubules is normal.


Published in Clinical Pathology
Sunday, 27 August 2017 13:15
Normally, a very small amount of albumin is excreted in urine. The earliest evidence of glomerular damage in diabetes mellitus is occurrence of microalbuminuria (albuminuria in the range of 30 to 300 mg/24 hours). An albuminuria > 300-mg/24 hour is termed clinical or overt and indicates significant glomerular damage. (See “Proteinuria” under Article “Chemical Examination of Urine”).


Published in Clinical Pathology
Sunday, 27 August 2017 01:43
Two biochemical parameters are commonly used to assess renal function: blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and serum creatinine. Although convenient, they are insensitive markers of glomerular function.
Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN)
Urea is produced in the liver from amino acids (ingested or tissue-derived). Amino acids are utilized to produce energy, synthesize proteins, and are catabolized to ammonia. Urea is produced in the liver from ammonia in the Krebs urea cycle. Ammonia is toxic and hence is converted to urea, which is then excreted in urine (Figure 842.1).
Figure 842.1 Formation of urea from protein breakdown
Figure 842.1 Formation of urea from protein breakdown 
The concentration of blood urea is usually expressed as blood urea nitrogen. This is because older methods estimated only the nitrogen in urea. Molecular weight of urea is 60, and 28 grams of nitrogen are present in a gm mole of urea. As the relationship between urea and BUN is 60/28, BUN can be converted to urea by multiplying BUN by 2.14, i.e. the real concentration of urea is BUN × (60/28).
Urea is completely filtered by the glomeruli, and about 30-40% of the filtered amount is reabsorbed in the renal tubules depending on the person’s state of hydration.
Blood level of urea is affected by a number of non-renal factors (e.g. high protein diet, upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage, liver function, etc.) and therefore utility of BUN as an indicator of renal function is limited. Also considerable destruction of renal parenchyma is required before elevation of blood urea can occur.
The term azotemia refers to the increase in the blood level of urea; uremia is the clinical syndrome resulting from this increase. If renal function is absent, BUN rises by 10-20 mg/dl/day.
Causes of increased BUN:
  1. Pre-renal azotemia: shock, congestive heart failure, salt and water depletion
  2. Renal azotemia: impairment of renal function
  3. Post-renal azotemia: obstruction of urinary tract
  4. Increased rate of production of urea:
    • High protein diet
    • Increased protein catabolism (trauma, burns, fever)
    • Absorption of amino acids and peptides from a large gastrointestinal hemorrhage or tissue hematoma
Methods for estimation of BUN:
Two methods are commonly used.
  1. Diacetyl monoxime urea method: This is a direct method. Urea reacts with diacetyl monoxime at high temperature in the presence of a strong acid and an oxidizing agent. Reaction of urea and diacetyl monoxime produces a yellow diazine derivative. The intensity of color is measured in a colorimeter or spectrophotometer.
  2. Urease- Berthelot reaction: This is an indirect method. Enzyme urease splits off ammonia from the urea molecule at 37°C. Ammonia generated is then reacted with alkaline hypochlorite and phenol with a catalyst to produce a stable color (indophenol). Intensity of color produced is then measured in a spectrophotometer at 570 nm.
Reference range for BUN in adults is 7-18 mg/dl. In adults > 60 years, level is 8-21 mg/dl.
Serum Creatinine
Creatinine is a nitrogenous waste product formed in muscle from creatine phosphate. Endogenous production of creatinine is proportional to muscle mass and body weight. Exogenous creatinine (from ingestion of meat) has little effect on daily creatinine excretion.
Serum creatinine is a more specific and more sensitive indicator of renal function as compared to BUN because:
  • It is produced from muscles at a constant rate and its level in blood is not affected by diet, protein catabolism, or other exogenous factors;
  • It is not reabsorbed, and very little is secreted by tubules.
With muscle mass remaining constant, increased creatinine level reflects reduction of glomerular filtration rate. However, because of significant kidney reserve, increase of serum creatinine level (from 1.0 mg/dl to 2.0 mg/dl) in blood does not occur until about 50% of kidney function is lost. Therefore, serum creatinine is not a sensitive indicator of early renal impairment. Also, laboratory report showing serum creatinine “within normal range” does not necessarily mean that the level is normal; the level should be correlated with body weight, age, and sex of the individual. If renal function is absent, serum creatinine rises by 1.0 to 1.5 mg/dl/day (Figure 842.2).
Figure 842.2 Relationship between glomerular filtration rate and serum creatinine
Figure 842.2 Relationship between glomerular filtration rate and serum creatinine. Significant increase of serum creatinine does not occur till a considerable fall in GFR

Causes of Increased Serum Creatinine Level
  1. Pre-renal, renal, and post-renal azotemia
  2. Large amount of dietary meat
  3. Active acromegaly and gigantism
Causes of Decreased Serum Creatinine Level
  1. Pregnancy
  2. Increasing age (reduction in muscle mass)
Methods for Estimation of Serum Creatinine
The test for serum creatinine is cheap, readily available, and simple to perform. There are two methods that are commonly used:
  1. Jaffe’s reaction (Alkaline picrate reaction): This is the most widely used method. Creatinine reacts with picrate in an alkaline solution to produce spectrophotometer at 485 nm. Certain substances in plasma (such as glucose, protein, fructose, ascorbic acid, acetoacetate, acetone, and cephalosporins) react with picrate in a similar manner; these are called as non-creatinine chromogens (and can cause false elevation of serum creatinine level). Thus ‘true’ creatinine is less by 0.2 to 0.4 mg/dl when estimated by Jaffe’s reaction.
  2. Enzymatic methods: These methods use enzymes that cleave creatinine; hydrogen peroxide produced then reacts with phenol and a dye to produce a colored product, which is measured in a spectrophotometer.
Reference range:
Adult males: 0.7-1.3 mg/dl.
Adult females: 0.6-1.1 mg/dl.
Serum creatinine alone should not be used to assess renal function. This is because serum creatinine concentration depends on age, sex, muscle mass, glomerular filtration and amount of tubular secretion. Thus, normal serum creatinine range is wide. Serum creatinine begins to rise when GFR falls below 50% of normal. Minor rise of serum creatinine is associated with significant reduction of GFR (Figure 842.2). Therefore early stage of chronic renal impairment cannot be detected by measurement of serum creatinine alone.
BUN/Serum Creatinine Ratio
Clinicians commonly calculate BUN/creatinine ratio to discriminate pre-renal and post-renal azotemia from renal azotemia. Normal ratio is 12:1 to 20:1.
Causes of Increased BUN/Creatinine Ratio (>20:1):
  1. Increased BUN with normal serum creatinine:
    • Pre-renal azotemia (reduced renal perfusion)
    • High protein diet
    • Increased protein catabolism
    • Gastrointestinal hemorrhage
  2. Increase of both BUN and serum creatinine with disproportionately greater increase of BUN:
    • Post-renal azotemia (Obstruction to the outflow of urine)
    Obstruction to the urine outflow causes diffusion of urinary urea back into the blood from tubules because of backpressure.

Causes of Decreased BUN/Creatinine Ratio (<10:1)
  • Acute tubular necrosis
  • Low protein diet, starvation
  • Severe liver disease
Page 1 of 10

Useful Sites

  • NCBI

    National Center for Biotechnology Information
  • LTO

    Lab Tests Online® by AACC
  • ASCP

    American Society for Clinical Pathology
  • ASM

    American Society for Microbiology
  • The Medical Library®

    Project of

Connect With Us

Contact Us

All comments and suggestions about this web site are very welcome and a valuable source of information for us. Thanks!

Tel: +(92) 302 970 8985-6

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Our Sponsors

The Physio

By using you agree to our use of cookies to enhance your experience on this website.