- collect your poo (stool) sample in the sterile container given to you by your doctor or nurse
- store the container in a fridge in a sealed plastic bag if you can't hand it in straight away
Collecting a stool sample
A GP or another healthcare professional, such as a nurse, should explain how to collect the sample.
The doctor or a member of staff at the hospital will give you a plastic (specimen) container.
Try not to collect pee (urine) with the poo, but don't worry if you do. If you need to pee, do this first before collecting the poo.
To collect the sample:
- label the container with your name, date of birth and the date
- place something in the toilet to catch the poo, such as a potty or an empty plastic food container, or spread clean newspaper or plastic wrap over the rim of the toilet
- make sure the poo doesn't touch the inside of the toilet
- use the spoon or spatula that comes with the container to put the required amount of poo into the container, then screw the lid shut
- aim to fill around a third of the container – that's about the size of a walnut
- tip the remaining poo into the toilet, put anything you used to collect it in a plastic bag, tie it up and put it in the bin
- wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm running water
Follow any other instructions your doctor has given you.
Storing a stool sample
Your sample of poo must be fresh. If it is not, the bacteria in it can multiply. This means the levels of bacteria in the stool sample won't be the same as the levels of bacteria in your digestive system. If the levels of bacteria don't match, the test results may not be accurate.
Your sample should be handed in as soon as possible, as sometimes it can't be analysed after being refrigerated. Your doctor will tell you if this is the case.
If you can't hand your sample in immediately, find out how long it can be kept in the fridge. Your GP or the healthcare professional who requested the test will be able to tell you. If you can store it in the fridge, put the container in a sealed plastic bag first.
What are stool samples used for?
Your GP or another healthcare professional may ask you for a stool sample to help them diagnose or rule out a particular health condition.
Poo contains bacteria and other substances that are in the digestive system.
By testing the levels of these substances and bacteria in your poo, it's possible to work out what's happening in your digestive system.
For example, the sample can be tested to help diagnose:
- gastroenteritis, a common condition that causes diarrhoea and vomiting, and is usually the result of a bacterial or viral tummy bug
- inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease, a condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system, and ulcerative colitis, a condition where the colon and rectum become inflamed
Find out more about operations, tests and procedures.