A fecal fat test measures the amount of fat in a person’s stool. The test assesses the digestive function and absorption of fat in the gastrointestinal tract.

Several medical conditions cause poor fat absorption, including pancreatic insufficiency, celiac disease, and cystic fibrosis. To perform the test, an individual consumes 100 grams (g) of fat daily during the testing period. Experts then measure the fat content of the stools collected during the testing period.

This article explains the goal of fecal fat testing, the procedure, and what the results mean.

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A fecal fat test is a way for doctors to discover if the digestive system can digest and absorb fats from the diet. The test is also known as a lipid stool test or coefficient of fat absorption (CFA).

Digesting and absorbing fats is a complex process that involves several parts working together. When a person eats fat, the body needs bile acids, digestive enzymes, and a healthy small intestine to absorb it properly.

Bile acids and pancreatic enzymes break down fats into free fatty acids and monoglycerides. In the upper part of the small intestine, these broken-down fats join with bile acids to form micelles, which are taken through the intestinal wall and then on to where the body needs them.

Any problems with the bile acids, pancreatic enzymes, or small intestinal walls can impair the body’s ability to absorb fat, creating fatty stool.

Not being able to absorb fat can lead to serious malnutrition and a deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins.

Learn more about how the body digests fat.

Doctors may recommend fecal fat testing for individuals experiencing symptoms or conditions that suggest malabsorption of fats.

If stools are high in fat content, they may have physical characteristics, such as being bulky, pale, oily, and foul-smelling. This is a condition doctors call steatorrhea.

Other situations where doctors may order fecal fat testing include:

Learn more about steatorrhea or fatty stool.

Depending on the symptoms, medical history, and initial findings, a doctor may recommend additional tests to evaluate the condition, including:

Preparing for a fecal fat test involves several steps.

An individual can discuss the test’s purpose with a doctor to understand the guidelines and dietary requirements.

They should review all medications with the doctor and, if they advise it, stop taking any medications or supplements that may interfere with the test.

A person can obtain a collection container kit from the laboratory or doctor’s office. They should check that all of the necessary parts are there and review the instructions for collecting and storing samples and where to deliver them.

The individual taking the test should plan to consume at least 100 g of fat each day for the 2 days leading up to the test and throughout the testing days.

Foods high in fat content include:

  • whole milk and full fat yogurt
  • cheese
  • baked goods
  • meats, such as sausage, bacon, and ribs
  • butter

The testing period typically takes 72 hours. Sometimes tests are run for shorter times, such as 24 or 48 hours.

During the testing period, a person should collect a stool sample of each bowel movement. The doctor or lab may provide the tester with a plastic “hat” to place in the toilet bowl.

Urinate before using the hat to prevent any urine from contaminating the sample. Water and toilet paper can also affect the accuracy of the test, so it is essential to keep them away from the stool sample.

Once the sample is in the hat, a wooden or plastic scoop can transfer the sample into a special container. Close the lid tightly, label it properly, and store it in the refrigerator. Repeat this process every time there is a bowel movement throughout the testing period.

After completing the test and delivering the samples, it may take several days to get the results.

The results of the fecal fat test provide valuable information about the absorption and digestion of fats as the test measures the amount of fat present in the stool samples.

Results showing more than 7 g of fat in a stool while consuming 100 g of fat daily suggest problems absorbing fats.

After receiving the results, the doctor will discuss the findings with the individual.

The doctor may diagnose the issue or order further tests based on the results. Sometimes, doctors need to run more tests to determine the underlying cause of the malabsorption.

The doctor may also discuss treatment planning, including dietary modifications, medications, or other interventions to address the underlying cause.

A doctor may refer the individual to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist or nutritionist, for further evaluation and management.

Fecal fat testing is a diagnostic procedure that assesses the absorption and digestion of fats in the gastrointestinal tract.

By analyzing the fat content in stool samples collected over a specific period, the test provides valuable information on the efficiency of fat absorption. Elevated levels of fecal fat may indicate impaired fat digestion.

These findings may indicate conditions, such as pancreatic insufficiency, celiac disease, and cystic fibrosis.

Fecal fat testing helps doctors make a diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatments for people experiencing fat malabsorption.