CHEMICAL EXAMINATION OF FECES

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Wednesday, 30 August 2017 01:21
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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.

Additional Info

  • Reference(s):
    • American Gastroenterological Association. AGA technical review on the evaluation and management of chronic diarrhea. Gastroenterology 1999;116: 1464-86.
    • American Gastroenterological Association Medical Position Statement: Guidelines for the evaluation and management of chronic diarrhoea. Gastroenterology 1999;116:1461-3.
    • Haque R, Huston CD, Hughes M, Houpt E, Petri, WA Jr. Amebiasis. New Engl J Med 2003;348:1565:73.
Last modified on Wednesday, 30 August 2017 02:17
Dayyal Dg.

Medical Laboratory Technician at National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, Karachi. | Author/Writer/Blogger

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  • NORMAL GASTRIC ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY
    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
  • CONTRAINDICATIONS TO GASTRIC ANALYSIS
    • 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.
  • LABORATORY TESTS FOR GASTRIC ANALYSIS
    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.
     
    REFERENCE RANGES
     
    • 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%

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