Stool O & P Test

Stool O & P Test

 

Definition

The stool O & P test is the stool ova and parasites test. In this test, a stool sample is examined for the presence of intestinal parasites and their eggs, which are called ova.

Purpose

The ova and parasites test is performed to look for and identify intestinal parasites and their eggs in persons with symptoms of gastrointestinal infection. Patients may have no symptoms, or experience diarrhea, blood in the stools, and other gastrointestinal distress. Identification of a particular parasite indicates the cause of the patient's disease and determines the medication needed to treat it.

Precautions

Stool O & P is performed if an infection of the digestive tract is suspected. The test has no harmful effects.

Description

Examination of the stool for ova and parasites is done to diagnose parasitic infection of the intestines. The test may be done in the doctor's office or a laboratory. The patient collects a stool sample in one or more sterile containers containing special chemical fixatives. The feces should be collected directly into the container. It must not be contaminated with urine, water, or other materials. Three specimens are often needed-collected every other day, or every third day. However, as many as six specimens may be needed to diagnose the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica. The specimen does not need to be refrigerated. It should be delivered to the doctor's office or laboratory within 12 hours.
In the laboratory, the stool sample is observed for signs of parasites and their eggs. Some parasites are large enough to be seen without a microscope. For others, microscope slides are prepared with fresh unstained stool, and with stool dyed with special stains. These preparations are observed with a microscope for the presence of parasites or their eggs.
An unstained stool examination for ova and parasites normally only takes a few minutes. If specimen staining and other preparation is done, the test may take longer. When the specimen is sent to a laboratory, the results may take eight to 24 hours to be reported.
The most common intestinal parasites in North America that cause infections are:
  • roundworms: Ascaris lumbricoides
  • hookworms: Necator americanus
  • pinworms: Enterobius follicularis
  • tapeworms: Diphyllobothrium latum, Taenia saginata, and Taenia solium
  • protozoa: Entamoeba histolytica (an amoeba), and Giardia lamblia (a flagellate)
Numerous other parasites are found in other parts of the world. These may be contracted by travelers to other countries. Patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or other immune system disorders are commonly infected with the parasites in the Microsporidia family, Cryptosporidium, and Isospora belli.
Insurance coverage for stool ova and parasites may vary among different insurance plans. This test usually is covered if ordered by a physician approved by the patient's insurance plan, and if it is done at an approved laboratory.

Preparation

The physician, or other healthcare provider, will ask the patient for a complete medical history, and perform a physical examination to determine possible causes of the gastrointestinal symptoms. Information about the patient's diet, any medications taken, and recent travel may provide clues to the identity of possible infectious parasites.
Collecting a stool sample for ova and parasite detection normally doesn't require any special preparation. Patients do not need to change their diet before collecting the specimen. Patients should avoid taking any medications or treatments containing mineral oil, castor oil, or bismuth, magnesium or other antidiarrheal medicines, or antibiotics for seven to 10 days before collecting the specimen.

Normal results

Normally, parasites and eggs should not be found in stools. Some parasites are not pathogenic, which means they do not cause disease. If these are found, no treatment is necessary.

Key terms

Amoeba — A type of protozoa (one-celled animal) that can move or change its shape by extending projections of its cytoplasm.
Bismuth — A substance used in medicines to treat diarrhea, nausea, and indigestion.
Cryptosporidium — A type of parasitic protozoa.
Feces — Material excreted by the intestines.
Flagellate — A microorganism that uses flagella (hair-like projections) to move.
Gastrointestinal — Referring to the digestive tract; the stomach and intestines.
Isospora belli — A type of parasitic protozoa.
Microsporida — A type of parasitic protozoa.
Ova — Eggs.
Parasite — An organism that lives on or inside another living organism (host), causing damage to the host.
Pathogenic — Disease-causing.
Protozoa — One-celled eukaryotic organisms belonging to the kingdom Protista.
Sterile — Free of microorganisms.

Abnormal results

The presence of any pathogenic parasite indicates an intestinal parasitic infection. Depending on the parasite identified, other tests may need to be performed to determine if the parasite has invaded other parts of the body. Some parasites travel from the intestines to other parts of the body and may already have caused damage to other tissues by the time a diagnosis is made. For example, the roundworm, Ascaris penetrates the intestinal wall and can cause inflammation in the abdomen. It can also migrate to the lungs and cause pneumonia. This kind of injury can occur weeks before the roundworm eggs show up in the stool.
Other types of damage caused by intestinal parasites include anemia due to hemorrhage caused by hookworms, and anemia caused by depletion of vitamin B12 through the action of tapeworms.
When a parasite is identified, the patient can be treated with the appropriate medications to eliminate the parasite.

Resources

Books

Zaret, Barry L., et al., editors. The Patient's Guide to Medical Tests. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.