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Fecal Occult Blood Test

(FOBT; Stool Occult Blood Test)

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Reasons for Test | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor

Definition

A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) is a test to detect the presence of blood in the stool, also known as the feces.

Reasons for Test

An FOBT is used as part of the colorectal cancer screening process.

It may also used to detect blood in your stool if you are having abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, decreased appetite, or other symptoms.

Colorectal Cancer

Rectal cancer
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Adenomatous Polyp in Colon

Colon polyp
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Possible Complications

There are no major complications associated with this test.

What to Expect

A positive FOBT does not mean you have cancer. Other things can cause a positive test. Minor stomach bleeding from certain medicines or hemorrhoids or eating certain foods can cause a positive test. To help avoid this, you can try to:

  • Avoid certain medicines and foods, such as:
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for seven days prior to testing. If you are taking them daily for medical conditions, talk to your doctor before you stop taking them.
    • Red meats for three days before testing
    • Cantaloupe, uncooked vegetables, blood sausage, and possibly Tabasco sauce for three days before testing
  • Wait until your hemorrhoids are not bleeding.
  • Avoid having the test during your menstrual period.
  • Avoid cleaning your toilet bowl for several days before the test. Chemicals from the cleanser can affect the test.

The test is most often done at home.

When you are ready to have a bowel movement, you will set up the kit according to the instructions. The kit should allow you to collect three samples of stool. Some kits provide a disposable container into which you can pass your bowel movement. Other kits provide you with tissue paper or plastic wrap that you can lay in the toilet to keep your stool sample from sinking into the water.

Using thin wooden sticks provided with the kit, you will pick up a very small sample of stool. You will then smear the sample onto a special card. The card folds over to protect the stool sample.

You will mail or deliver the cards to the clinic or lab. Make sure you have written your name on each card.

The test should only take a few minutes.

This test will not hurt.

If blood is found in your stool, you may be asked to have additional tests. These tests will help to determine the cause of the bleeding. Although cancer may be one cause of blood in the stool, there are many other causes.

Call Your Doctor

After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Development of any new symptoms
  • Worsening of existing symptoms

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians

http://familydoctor.org

Senior Health

National Institutes of Health

http://nihseniorhealth.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Digestive Health Foundation

http://www.cdhf.ca

References:

Can colorectal polyps and cancer be found early? Colorectal cancer screening. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_3X_Can_colon_and_rectum_cancer_be_found_early.asp. Updated January 17, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2013.

Guide to diagnostic tests: fecal occult blood test. Harvard Medical School Health Publications website. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diagnostic-tests/fecal-occult-blood-test.htm. Accessed on April 26, 2013.

Pignone M, Campbell M, Carr C, et al. Proposed Effects of Dietary and Medication Restrictions during FOBT with guaiac-based tests. Meta-analysis of dietary restriction during fecal occult blood testing. Effective Clinical Practice. 2001;4:150-156.

Last reviewed April 2013 by Mohei Abouzied, MD; Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.