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Fecal Fat Stool Test

Last updated Sept. 7, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

The Fecal Fat Stool Test helps determine the levels of fat in stool. It is used to diagnose fat malabsorption so that its underlying causes may be investigated.

What are other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • 72-Hour Fecal Fat Test
  • Fecal Fat Test

What is Fecal Fat Stool Test? (Background Information)

  • Fecal fat is fat that is present in the feces. Under normal circumstances, fat should not be found in significant quantities in the feces. Hence, appreciable levels of fecal fat may indicate problems with the absorption of fat (a condition termed as steatorrhea)
  • Dietary fats are broken down in the small intestine by the action of pancreatic enzymes, called lipases. Fat components are then taken up by intestinal cells for processing and transport
  • Steatorrhea, or malabsorption of fat, may be due to one or more of the following factors:
    • Inability of intestinal cells to take up fat components after breakdown
    • Deficiency of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas needed to break down fat
    • Impaired production of bile by the liver
  • The Fecal Fat Stool Test helps determine the levels of fat in stool. It is used to diagnose fat malabsorption so that its underlying causes may be investigated

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Fecal Fat Stool Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing the Fecal Fat Stool Test:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Cramping
  • Discomfort
  • Gas

How is the Specimen Collected for the Fecal Fat Stool Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Fecal Fat Stool Test:

Sample required: Stool 

Process of obtaining a stool sample in adults:

  • Defecation directly into a sterile container, or defecation into a separate container and transfer of feces via a tongue blade, randomly or over a 24-72 hour period
  • The stool sample is refrigerated, if it is unable to be sent to the laboratory immediately

Preparation required: The individual may be instructed to eat a high-fat (100 g per day) diet for 3 days prior to performing the test.

What is the Significance of the Fecal Fat Stool Test Result?

A high value (greater than 7 g per day in adults) for the Fecal Fat Stool Test may indicate steatorrhea, which is possibly caused by:

  • Fat malabsorption due to:
    • Crohn’s disease
    • Celiac disease
    • Whipple’s disease
    • Cystic fibrosis
    • Radiation enteritis
  • Maldigestion due to pancreatic lipase deficiency
  • Pancreatic duct or bile duct obstruction due to the presence of:
    • Gallstones
    • Tumor 

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • Watery stools due to diarrhea can even be used for the Fecal Fat Stool Test

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider of the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Feb. 1, 2016
Last updated: Sept. 7, 2018