Does oral iron cause false-positive stool guaiac test?

The general agreement in the literature is that oral iron supplementation does not cause a false-positive guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (GFOBT).

GFOBT is based on rapid oxidization of α-guaiaconic acid to “guaiacum blue”, with hemoglobin serving as a catalyst through a non-enzymatic or “pseudoperoxidase” action. Although in vitro Fe3+ may serve as an oxidizing agent, this reaction is possible only under acidic conditions not found in the stool (pH ≥ 6-7)1.  Also, in the absence of a catalyst, Fe3+ alone would not be expected to cause rapid (within 30 seconds) conversion of α-guaiaconic acid to guaiacum blue1

Although a number of earlier clinical studies reported false-positive GBFOBT because of oral iron supplementation, subsequent investigations have uniformly failed to confirm these findings2. Potential reasons for earlier false-positive GBFOBT results include false interpretation of the color change—eg, green instead of blue— particularly when the discoloration is weakly positive, and non-standardized method of stool collection with the possibility of stool sample contamination by toilet water.

Other fascinating facts: Did you know that guaiac plant extract was used for centuries for treatment of syphilis and that the earliest application of guaiac testing was in forensic medicine in 1800s?

References

  1. McDonnell WM, Ryan JA, Seeger DM, Elta GH. Effect of iron on the guaiac reaction. Gastroenterology. 1989 Jan;96(1):74-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2909440
  2. Anderson GD, Yellig TR, Krone RE. An investigation into the effects of oral iron supplementation on in vivo hemoccult stool testing. Am J Gastroenterol 1990;85:558-561. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/218661

Contributed by Brian Li, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

Does oral iron cause false-positive stool guaiac test?

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