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.
Why It's Done
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:
Be sure to wear latex gloves and wash your hands and your child's hands afterward.
Many kids with diarrhea, especially young kids, can't always let a parent know
in advance when a bowel movement is coming. So a hat-shaped plastic lid is used to
collect the stool specimen. This catching device can be quickly placed over a toilet
bowl, or under your child's bottom, to collect the sample. Using a catching device
can prevent contamination of the stool by water and dirt. Another way to collect a
stool sample is to loosely place plastic wrap over the seat of the toilet. Then place
the stool sample in a clean, sealable container before taking it to the lab.
Plastic wrap also can be used to line the diaper of an infant or toddler who isn't
yet using the toilet. The wrap should be placed so that urine runs into the diaper,
not the wrap.
Your child shouldn't urinate into the container, and if possible, should empty
his or her bladder before a bowel movement.
The stool should be collected into a clean, dry plastic jar with a screw-cap lid.
For best results, the stool should be brought to the lab right away because C.
difficile toxins break down quickly at room temperature, making them difficult
to detect. If this isn't possible, the stool should be refrigerated and then taken
to the lab as soon as possible. Carefully follow any directions given to you by the
What to Expect
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.
Getting the Results
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.
Helping Your Child
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
If You Have Questions
If you have questions about the C. difficile toxin stool test, speak with