Measurement of faecal fat excretion: an evaluation of attitudes and practices of Australian gastroenterologists

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Abstract Background:

Although faecal fat excretion over 72 h is the gold standard for quantifying fat malabsorption, there has been a push from chemical pathology laboratories to discontinue this test, arguing that it is unreliable and of limited clinical value. Aims:

To assess attitudes, knowledge and practices of Australian gastroenterologists in relation to the test and to gauge opinion as to whether it should remain available. Methods:

A self-administered questionnaire was developed to assess attitudes towards, patterns of use and understanding of 72-h faecal fat collections. This was posted to all members of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia. Results:

Of 429 eligible gastroenterologists, 124 (29%) responded. Eighty-two per cent utilized the test; 62% at least once per year. Main indications were suspected steatorrhoea (55%), unexplained chronic diarrhoea (39%) or weight loss (29%). Thirty-eight per cent ordered the test to determine stool volume. Only 26% attempted to appropriately fat load patients and approximately half did not recognize the potential influence of medications and stool volume. This was also reflected in poor interpretation of results in specific clinical scenarios. Of those who use the test at least once per year, 97% wanted its continued availability and 51% felt their practice would be significantly affected if the test was discontinued. Conclusions:

Although continued availability of 72-h faecal fat estimation is supported by many Australian gastroenterologists, the test appears to be often performed and interpreted suboptimally. Rather than discard the test, efforts should more appropriately be directed to improving baseline knowledge to ensure its optimal performance and interpretation. (Intern Med J 2006; 36: 77–85)

Keywords: diarrhoea; malabsorption; pancreatic insufficiency; steatorrhoea

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Gastroenterology and Monash University Department of Medicine, Box Hill Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: February 1, 2006

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