What Can Be Detected in a Stool Sample?

stool sample test

Stool samples are a valuable diagnostic tool used by healthcare professionals to assess various aspects of digestive health and health overall. Stool samples may be recommended by your doctor for a variety of reasons and can help diagnose a range of conditions. In this article, we will discuss what can be detected in a stool sample, the implications of these findings, and why your doctor might want to discuss stool sample results.

What is a Stool Sample?

stool sample


A stool sample, also known as a fecal sample, involves the collection of a small amount of feces that is then analyzed in a laboratory. This type of analysis can reveal a lot of information about a person's digestive health, the presence of infections, the absorption of nutrients, and even signs of systemic diseases.

What Can Be Detected in a Stool Sample?

Some of the primary things that can be detected in a stool sample include:


1. Infections

Bacterial Infections

Stool samples can detect bacterial infections that affect the gastrointestinal tract. Common pathogens include Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, and Escherichia coli (E. coli) (1). These bacteria can cause symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever.

Viral Infections

Viruses like norovirus and rotavirus can also be detected in stool samples. These viruses are often responsible for gastroenteritis, which leads to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps (2).

Parasitic Infections

Stool samples are used to identify parasites such as Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica, and Cryptosporidium. Parasitic infections can cause prolonged diarrhea, weight loss, and other gastrointestinal symptoms (3). In addition to detecting adult parasites, stool samples can also identify eggs and larvae of various parasites. This is crucial for diagnosing infections that may not have fully developed into adult parasites but are still causing symptoms.


2. Blood


The presence of blood in stool, known as fecal occult blood, can be an important indicator of various conditions, including gut diseases, hemorrhoids, or gastrointestinal bleeding  (4).


3. Inflammatory Markers


Inflammatory markers such as calprotectin and lactoferrin can be detected in stool samples. Elevated levels of these inflammatory markers are indicative of inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, which can be associated with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (5).


4. Digestive Enzymes


Stool samples can be analyzed for the presence of digestive enzymes such as pancreatic elastase. Low levels of these enzymes can indicate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), a condition where the pancreas does not produce enough enzymes to properly digest food (6)


5. Fat


The presence of undigested fat in stool, known as steatorrhea, can be detected through stool analysis. This can indicate malabsorption syndromes such as celiac disease or chronic pancreatitis, where the body is unable to properly absorb fats from the diet (7).


6. Pathological Organisms


Stool samples can also be used to identify the overgrowth of pathological organisms like Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile), which can cause severe diarrhea and colitis, especially following antibiotic use (8).


7. pH Levels


The pH level of stool can provide clues about digestive health. Abnormal pH levels can indicate issues such as lactose intolerance or bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (9).


8. Immunochemical Markers


Immunochemical fecal occult blood tests (iFOBT) can specifically detect human hemoglobin in stool, providing a more targeted approach to identifying bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract (10).


9. DNA Markers


Stool samples can be tested for specific DNA markers associated with gut diseases. This type of testing can identify mutations and other genetic changes that suggest the presence of cancerous or precancerous lesions in the colon (11).


10. Intestinal Flora


Stool samples can provide insights into the composition of the gut microbiome, the community of bacteria and other microorganisms living in the intestines. Imbalances in the gut microbiome have been linked to various health conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), obesity, and autoimmune diseases (12).


11. Metabolic Byproducts


Analysis of stool samples can also reveal the presence of metabolic byproducts that indicate how well the digestive system is functioning. For instance, high levels of certain fatty acids or bile acids can suggest issues with digestion or absorption.


Why Your Doctor Wants to Discuss Stool Sample Results

doctor results


When a doctor wants to discuss stool sample results, it is often because the analysis has provided important insights into your health. Here are some reasons why your doctor might want to go over these results with you:


1. Diagnosing Infections


If your stool sample has detected the presence of bacteria, viruses, or parasites, your doctor will discuss the type of infection, its severity, and the appropriate treatment options. This is crucial for managing symptoms and preventing the spread of infectious diseases (1).


2. Identifying Gastrointestinal Conditions


Stool sample results can help diagnose conditions like IBD, IBS, celiac disease, and other gut diseases. Your doctor will explain the findings, discuss the implications, and outline the next steps for further testing or treatment (5).


3. Assessing Digestive Function


If the analysis indicates issues with digestion or absorption, such as low levels of digestive enzymes or the presence of undigested fat, your doctor will discuss potential causes and recommend dietary changes, supplements, or other treatments to improve digestive health (6).


4. Monitoring Inflammation


Elevated inflammatory markers in stool can suggest chronic inflammatory conditions like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Your doctor will discuss what these markers mean for your condition and how they can be managed or monitored over time (5).


5. Evaluating Gut Microbiome Health


An analysis of your gut microbiome can reveal imbalances that may be contributing to symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. Your doctor can suggest probiotics, prebiotics, or dietary adjustments to restore a healthy balance (12).


6. Investigating Metabolic Disorders


Stool samples can indicate metabolic disorders through the presence of abnormal byproducts. Your doctor might discuss these findings to explore conditions related to metabolism and digestion.


7. Addressing Nutrient Malabsorption


If your stool sample reveals signs of nutrient malabsorption, such as steatorrhea, your doctor will discuss the potential underlying causes and suggest interventions to improve nutrient absorption and overall health (7).


What to Expect During the Discussion


When your doctor wants to discuss stool sample results, they will typically go over the following:


1. Explanation of Findings


Your doctor will explain what has been detected in your stool sample, such as the presence of pathogens, blood, inflammatory markers, or other abnormalities.


2. Diagnosis and Implications


Based on the findings, your doctor may provide a diagnosis or identify potential health concerns. They will explain what these results mean for your overall health and any specific conditions they might indicate.


3. Treatment and Management


If the stool sample results indicate a need for treatment, your doctor will discuss the available options. This may include medications, dietary changes, supplements, or other interventions.


4. Follow-Up Testing


In some cases, further testing may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis or monitor a condition. Your doctor will explain any additional tests that may be needed and why they are important.

5. Lifestyle and Dietary Recommendations


Your doctor may suggest changes to your diet or lifestyle to address the findings from your stool sample. This can include avoiding certain foods, incorporating specific nutrients, or adopting new habits to improve your digestive health.


6. Preventive Measures


Your doctor might also discuss preventive measures to avoid future health issues based on your stool sample results. This could involve regular screenings, lifestyle adjustments, or other proactive steps.


7. Addressing Concerns and Questions


During the discussion, your doctor will address any concerns or questions you might have about your stool sample results. This is an opportunity to gain a better understanding of your health and the steps you can take to maintain or improve it.




Stool samples are a powerful diagnostic tool that can reveal a wide range of information about your digestive and overall health. From detecting infections and inflammatory conditions to assessing digestive function and screening for diseases, stool sample analysis provides valuable insights that can guide diagnosis and treatment. When your doctor wants to discuss stool sample results, it is an opportunity to understand your health better and take proactive steps toward managing any conditions that may be identified.




  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583454/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3568900/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991402/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6101602/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598663/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010683/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4071723/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5856374/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4098007/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991598/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5924280/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473794/

Products mentioned in this post

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