Stool Test: C. Difficile Toxin

What It Is

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.

Preparation

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.

Procedure

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 lab.

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.

Risks

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 properly.

If You Have Questions

If you have questions about the C. difficile toxin stool test, speak with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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