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Fecal smear

Stool smear

Fecal smear is a laboratory test of a stool sample. This test is done to check for bacteria and parasites. Presence of organisms in stool shows diseases in the digestive tract.

Images

Lower digestive anatomy

How the Test is Performed

A stool sample is needed.

There are many ways to collect the sample. You can collect the sample:

Do not mix urine, water, or toilet tissue with the sample.

For children wearing diapers:

Make sure you follow your provider's instructions for returning the sample. Return the sample to the lab as soon as possible.

The stool sample is sent to a lab where a small amount is placed on a slide. The slide is placed under a microscope and checked for the presence of bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses. A stain may be placed on the sample that highlights certain germs or cells under the microscope.

How to Prepare for the Test

There is no preparation needed.

How the Test will Feel

There is no discomfort.

Why the Test is Performed

Your provider may order this test if you have severe diarrhea that will not go away or that keeps returning. The test result may be used to select the correct antibiotic treatment.

Normal Results

A normal result means there are no disease-causing germs or abnormal cells present.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different labs. Talk to your provider about the meaning of your test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal result means that abnormal germs or cells have been found in the stool sample. This may be due to an infection of the digestive tract.

Risks

There are no risks associated with a fecal smear.

Related Information

Diarrhea
Bacterial gastroenteritis

References

DuPont HL, Okhuysen PC. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 267.

Plourde AR, Beavis KG. Specimen collection and handling for diagnosis of infectious diseases. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 66.

Siddiqi HA, Rabinowitz S, Axiotis CA. Laboratory diagnosis of gastrointestinal and pancreatic disorders. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 23.

Wojewoda CM, Stempak LM. Medical bacteriology. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 57.

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Review Date: 5/6/2022  

Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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