Tips for Doing a Stool Test at Home
I have to make an assumption here: no one likes doing a stool test at home. Unfortunately, I've had to do them many times in order to collect a sample that will be tested for parasites, bacteria, and fecal calprotectin levels, which measure the amount of inflammation in the colon.
It is likely that many of us with IBD will end up collecting a sample at home, and all of could use some tips.
At-home stool tests with IBD
1. Pair it up with blood work
In my case, I always have to go to the lab for stool samples. First, I go in to pick up the kit. Then, I go in to drop off the sample itself. In order to make these trips worth it, I schedule blood work on the same day as one of the visits. While there might be a situation where someone does not need to do blood work with a stool sample, that has never happened to me.
I usually get at least my CBC and basic metabolic panel checked if we're doing a stool sample, because the doctor is trying to cover all the bases. If I get my blood work done when I'm picking up or dropping off my stool kit, I don’t have to go the lab a third time for more testing.
2. Consider a toilet hat
My lab now gives me a kit that includes something called a toilet hat. This sits on the toilet and collects your stool away from the toilet water. You will still need to fill the vials that the doctor gives you, but this you do not need to defecate straight into the cups which can be really hard to do, and frustrating and unclean if you miss.
Make sure to urinate outside of the hat so as not to contaminate the sample. I make sure the hat is positioned to the back of my toilet to help with this.
After using the toilet hat, you will likely use a spoon to move the stool into the vials. If this seems unappealing, feel free to see if you can skip the hat and go straight into the vials. However, depending on the type of testing you're doing, this may not be possible.
3. Read all the instructions first
Once you have all your materials (including the toilet hat, if you're using it!), I suggest reading all the instructions carefully. Once you've actually used the bathroom, you probably will want to move fast since having stool in the open air is not pleasant. By reading the instructions ahead of time, you won’t be fumbling.
You may also want to keep the instructions close, and open to the page you're on, for easy reading. Also, consider setting out all your materials, like the spoon and vials, so that they are in easy reach depending on what step you are on.
Lastly, make sure to look at which vials require the most sample. You can tell this by looking at how high the fill line is on the vial. I usually start with that vial so that I know I am getting all the sample I need first. Then I move on to the ones that can use the remaining stool.
4. Wear the gloves and stay sanitary
My lab gives me a couple of pairs of gloves to use during the collection process. I wear them as soon as I have finished using the bathroom and I only take them off if and when they get dirty. It is vital to wear these gloves so that you are not exposed to anything unsanitary while you are doing the collection.
Between each step I inspect my gloves to see if they are still clean. Once I am done the collection process, I switch to a clean pair of gloves and throw everything out, including the toilet hat. I put it all in a big bag and get it out of the house as quickly as possible.
When I do need to take my gloves off, I hold the wrist of one glove in the other hand’s fingers. I pull the wrist towards the fingers so the glove comes off inside out. Then, while I am still holding the first glove, I use my newly ungloved hand to pull at the wrist of the remaining glove. Again, I pull towards the fingers. This time, when the glove comes off, the first glove will be inside the second inside out one. This way I never have to touch the part of the gloves that was close to the stool.
Regardless of that, I still wash my hands in very hot water, up to the elbows. I also sanitize the bathroom, especially the toilet seat.
5. Air out and perfume the bathroom
If possible, you may want to warn your family and friends from using the bathroom you took the sample in, especially if you’ve used a hat. Because the stool is out in the open, it really causes a smell. Using the bathroom fan, as well as some air fresheners can really help with that, but you may want to give it some time. Make sure, too, that all the trash is immediately taken out to help with the smell.
Stool samples: another fun part of IBD
Getting a stool sample done is not my favorite activity, but I try my best to get it done efficiently and cleanly. Ultimately, the data that my doctor gets is helpful for adjusting my treatment plan, so I do feel this awful process is necessary for getting me to feel better. So, I pinch my nose and get it done.
Do you have a diagnosis story to share?