Calprotectin Fecal Test: Purpose, Preparation, Results 

Calprotectin Fecal Test: Purpose, Preparation, Results 

A calprotectin fecal test measures the amount of a protein called calprotectin in your stool (poop) to look for intestinal inflammation. When inflammation affects your intestines, your immune system sends neutrophils (white blood cells) to the affected area. Neutrophils release calprotectin, which mixes with stool.

Gastroenterologists (doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions affecting the gastrointestinal tract) use calprotectin fecal tests to help diagnose and monitor inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC).

The calprotectin fecal test is a non-invasive method for identifying intestinal inflammation. Collecting and analyzing a stool sample with a fecal calprotectin can serve as a diagnostic tool and monitor disease activity.

Diagnostic Tool

If you are experiencing ongoing digestive symptoms like severe watery or bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, or unintended weight loss, your healthcare provider may order a fecal calprotectin test to determine whether inflammation is involved in the cause of your symptoms.

By measuring inflammation, a fecal calprotectin test can also help distinguish between inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBD and IBS share similar symptoms but have distinct causes and treatments. IBD is associated with intestinal inflammation, but IBS does not cause inflammation. Measuring calprotectin levels in stool samples helps determine whether the symptoms are IBD- or IBS-related. 

While a fecal calprotectin test alone cannot diagnose digestive conditions, it is a non-invasive way to identify inflammation and help determine whether other diagnostic tests, such as an endoscopy, are necessary.

Disease Monitoring

A calprotectin fecal test can monitor intestinal inflammation if you’ve already been diagnosed with IBD. The test can help assess the severity of inflammation and check the effectiveness of treatment.

During IBD remission (a time when you have little to no symptoms), the test can help predict the likelihood of symptoms returning (relapsing). Healthcare providers use this information to guide treatment decisions for people with IBDs. 

A calprotectin fecal test is simple and straightforward. It involves collecting and analyzing a stool sample to check for calprotectin, a protein that neutrophils (white blood cells) release in response to inflammation in the intestines.

How To Prepare

No special preparation is required before a calprotectin fecal test. Some medications can affect test results, so your healthcare provider may ask you to stop taking certain medications before the test, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

NSAIDs can increase calprotectin levels in your stool. You may need to stop taking prescription or over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), and aspirin, for up to two weeks before the test.

PPIs, which are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) medications, can elevate calprotectin levels in the stool. Your healthcare provider may ask you to stop taking medications like Prilosec (omeprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole), and Prevacid (lansoprazole) for a short period before your test.

During the Test 

Your healthcare provider will give you a stool collection kit and instructions on how to use the kit and collect your stool. You can do this from the comfort of your home in most cases. The kit will come with instructions on how to collect the stool. It may ask you to do something similar to the following:

  • Place a special paper or plastic wrap over the toilet bowl (to catch the stool)
  • Use the kit’s collection spoon to remove a portion of the stool from the plastic wrap and place the sample into the specimen container
  • Ensure your stool sample doesn’t contain urine, water from the toilet, or toilet paper
  • Tightly close the specimen container
  • Wash your hands with soap and water
  • Label the specimen container with your name and the collection date and time

After the Test

Once you’ve collected your stool sample, you will return the specimen container to your healthcare provider or send it directly to the lab, depending on the instructions. If you are unable to drive to the provider’s office or ship the specimen straight away, read the instructions about what you should do with the specimen in the meantime. They might recommend storing the sample in the refrigerator.

You will also need to remove the specimen collector from your toilet bowl and dispose of it in the trash.

A calprotectin fecal test has no known risks. It is considered safe for children and adults. Just like any other time you go to the bathroom, you should make sure to wash your hands to avoid any germs in your poop from making you sick. 

Your calprotectin fecal test results should be ready within a few days of the lab receiving your stool sample. Depending on lab processing times, though, it may take longer. The lab will send the test results to your healthcare provider, who will contact you or schedule an appointment to discuss your results and what they mean.

Interpreting Your Results

Your calprotectin fecal test results will tell you whether the calprotectin levels in your stool are normal or high compared to a reference range. A reference range is a set of values that represent the expected range of calprotectin levels in stool. Healthcare providers use the reference range to determine whether your results fall within the normal range or are higher than average.

While normal ranges of calprotectin concentrations in stool can vary from lab to lab, most tests have similar values. Here’s a breakdown of what your results mean:

  • Normal levels: Calprotectin levels below 50 micrograms per gram (μg/g) suggest no inflammation in your intestines. This means an inflammatory condition like IBD is likely not the cause of your symptoms.
  • Moderate levels: Calprotectin levels between 50-120 μg/g are borderline elevated. Your healthcare provider may recommend repeating the test and comparing the results to determine whether you have intestinal inflammation. 
  • High levels: Calprotectin levels greater than 120 μg/g indicate significant inflammation in your intestines. IBD and some types of food poisoning can cause high levels of calprotectin.

Your healthcare provider may recommend additional testing depending on your results, symptoms, and diagnosis. For example, if you have unexplained digestive symptoms, they may recommend a colonoscopy to look for inflammation inside your intestines. If you’ve already been diagnosed with IBD, your healthcare provider may recommend making adjustments to your treatment plan if your test results indicate high levels of inflammation.

A calprotectin fecal test involves collecting a stool sample to measure the amount of a protein called calprotectin, a marker of inflammation in the intestines. Healthcare providers use this test to investigate persistent digestive problems like diarrhea and abdominal pain, differentiate between IBD and IBS, and monitor disease activity in people with IBD to assess the effectiveness of treatment. 

Calprotectin fecal test results can determine whether the intestines are inflamed. The results offer valuable insights for healthcare providers, helping them determine whether to perform additional diagnostic tests or adjust treatment plans as needed to control intestinal inflammation. 

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