Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Stool tests

6-minute read

Key facts

  • A stool test examines a sample of faeces (poo) in the laboratory.
  • There are many different types of stool tests, to check for bowel cancer, gastrointestinal infections and other health conditions.
  • Most people with gastroenteritis don’t need any tests, but sometimes your doctor may refer you for a stool culture.
  • The faecal occult blood test is a screening test for bowel cancer — eligible Australians receive the test kit in the mail.
  • It’s important to follow the instructions for collecting a stool sample and bringing it to the laboratory.

What is a stool test?

Stool tests examine samples of poo (also called faeces or bowel motions). Stool samples can be tested in the laboratory in a variety of ways, depending on why you are doing the test. These tests are sometimes called faecal tests.

Why might I need to have a stool test?

There are many different reasons why you might be recommended to have a stool test, such as:

What type of stool test can look for bowel cancer?

An immunochemical faecal occult blood test, or iFOBT, is used for bowel cancer screening. It tests healthy people for blood in their faeces that may come from bowel cancer. The test can detect tiny amounts of blood that you can’t see. The aim is to find cancers early.

If the test shows you have blood in your faeces, you will need to have more testing to see what is causing it — it’s not always due to cancer.

All Australians aged between 50 and 74 are eligible to do a free iFOBT every 2 years through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

What type of stool test can diagnose an infection?

Stool microscopy and culture

Stool microscopy and culture can identify bacteria, viruses or parasites that might cause gastroenteritis.

Most of the time gastroenteritis gets better by itself and no tests are needed. Your doctor might refer you for one of these tests if you have diarrhoea that lasts more than a few days or contains blood, or if you have recently travelled overseas, or if you may be involved in an outbreak.

If the test shows bacteria or a parasite, you may need to take medicine for it. If nothing is detected on the test but your symptoms continue, see your doctor.

Clostridium difficile stool test

Clostridium difficile (also known as C. diff) is a type of bacteria that can cause diarrhoea after taking antibiotics. It is detected on a stool test.

Helicobacter pylori stool test

Helicobacter pylori is a type of bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. It can be detected on several different types of tests, including a stool test.

What types of stool test can check for other health conditions?

There are other stool tests which are sometimes done to diagnose or monitor certain health conditions. Here are some examples:

  • Faecal calprotectin — this is a test of inflammation in the bowel. It may help your doctor work out if you have inflammatory bowel disease. If you do, it can also be used to monitor the level of inflammation if you have a flare-up.
  • Faecal elastase and fat — these can be tested to check if your pancreas is working properly. Your doctor might ask you to do this test, if there are signs that you are not absorbing food well.

How do I collect a stool sample?

Faecal occult blood test

Stool samples for iFOBTs are easily collected in the privacy of your own home. You will get a free kit in the mail with instructions. This is part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Once you have done the test, you will need to mail the samples to the laboratory.

Stool tests for infection

Your doctor or pathology collector will give you sterile jars to collect your sample in. Hold a clean plastic container (lined with toilet paper) in the toilet to catch your faeces and then transfer some of it into the sterile jars. Make sure you don't contaminate the sample with urine or water. If you need to pass urine, do so before collecting your stool sample.

Wear gloves and wash your hands carefully after doing the test to avoid passing on an infection. Discard the remaining contents of the plastic container into the toilet.

You will need to take the sample to the laboratory as soon as possible. You may need to store the sample in the fridge until you deliver it. Talk to your doctor or pathology collector about what to do.

How will I get results of my stool test?

If you have done a faecal occult blood test, you should get your results in the mail about 2 weeks later. Your results will also be sent to your doctor, if you nominated them on the form you sent in with the sample. If your test is positive, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss what to do next.

For any other stool test, you can get the results from your doctor. It’s very important to talk to your doctor about your test results.

Resources and support

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2022

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Stool culture | Pathology Tests Explained

The stool culture is a test that detects and identifies bacteria that cause infections of the lower digestive tract. The test distinguishes between the types

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Understanding your FOBT results | Cancer Council

Bowel cancer can develop without early warning signs or symptoms. Read our latest information on symptoms, screening and how to reduce your risk

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Faecal occult blood test (FOBT) | Pathology Tests Explained

The faecal occult blood test (FOB) checks for small amounts of blood (not visible by eye) in your stool. Normally, there will not be enough blood lost throug

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Bowel cancer screening | Cancer Council

Regular bowel cancer screening using an FOBT kit can pick up pre-cancerous polyps. Find out more about tests to help diagnose bowel cancer.

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Early detection of bowel cancer | Cancer Council

It is crucial that bowel cancer is detected early. Read our latest information on symptoms, screening and how to reduce the risk of bowel cancer

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Faecal occult blood test -

Faecal occult blood test is a chemical test that can detect tiny traces of blood in the stool that may indicate the presence of bowel cancer or a precancerous polyp.

Read more on myDr website

Colorectal cancer biomarkers information | myVMC

Colorectal cancer biomarkers are biological features of body cells that provide information about colorectal cancer risk, stage, treatment and progression.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Bowel Screening | SA Health

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program involves testing for bowel cancer in eligible people who do not have any obvious symptoms of the disease.

Read more on SA Health website

Screening | Cancer Australia

Screening involves testing people who do not have obvious symptoms of disease. Simple screening tests look for particular changes and early signs of cancer before it has developed or before any symptoms emerge. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites Australians aged 50 years and over to screen for bowel cancer using a free, simple test at home. For more

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Bowel cancer screening | Cancer Institute NSW

Australia has one of the highest incidence of bowel cancer in the world—find out why screening is important and how you can take part in the bowel screening program.

Read more on Cancer Institute NSW website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.