Test Catalog

Interpretive Handbook

Test 8909 :
Nitrogen, Total, Feces

Clinical Information Discusses physiology, pathophysiology, and general clinical aspects, as they relate to a laboratory test

Nitrogen is a key component of proteins. Nitrogen balance is the difference between the amount of nitrogen ingested and the amount excreted in the urine and feces. A majority of nitrogen is excreted as urea in the urine, however, fecal nitrogen can account for 30% to 50% of total nitrogen excretion.

A patient who is in negative nitrogen balance is catabolizing muscle protein to meet the metabolic requirements of the protein catabolism and,therefore, urine and fecal nitrogen may be increased due to stress, physical trauma, surgery, infections, burns, and 11-oxysteroid or thyroxine use. Testosterone and growth hormone have anabolic effects on protein synthesis and may decrease urine and fecal nitrogen.


In the course of chronic progressive pancreatitis, as the pancreas is destroyed, serum amylase and lipase may revert to normal. However, excessive fecal nitrogen levels persist and are used as an indicator of pancreatic atrophy.

Useful For Suggests clinical disorders or settings where the test may be helpful

Determining nitrogen balance, when used in conjunction with 24-hour urine nitrogen measurement


Assessing nutritional status (protein malnutrition)


Evaluating protein catabolism

Interpretation Provides information to assist in interpretation of the test results

Average fecal nitrogen excretion is approximately 1-2 g N/24 hours. Significantly abnormal excretion rates, resulting in negative nitrogen balance, may be associated with severe stress due to multiple trauma, head injury, sepsis, or extensive burns. Elevated values >2.5 g N/24 hours may be consistent with chronic progressive pancreatitis. The goal with therapy for a depleted person is a positive nitrogen balance of 4 to 6 g N/24 hours.

Cautions Discusses conditions that may cause diagnostic confusion, including improper specimen collection and handling, inappropriate test selection, and interfering substances

Send ENTIRE STOOL COLLECTION (must contain at least 5 g of feces) frozen on dry ice in Mayo Medical Laboratories approved container.


Measurement of both urine and fecal nitrogen is necessary for the accurate determination of nitrogen balance.


Specify length of collection period (duration of either 24, 48, 72, or 96 hour) for entire stool specimen.


During nitrogen balance studies, nitrogen lost from exuding wounds, such as burns, and from copious sputum must be included in the patient's evaluation.

Reference Values Describes reference intervals and additional information for interpretation of test results. May include intervals based on age and sex when appropriate. Intervals are Mayo-derived, unless otherwise designated. If an interpretive report is provided, the reference value field will state this.

<16 years: not established

> or =16 years: 1-2 g/24 hours

Clinical References Provides recommendations for further in-depth reading of a clinical nature

1. Morse, MH, et al: Protein requirement of elderly women: nitrogen balance responses to three levels of protein intake. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2001 Nov;56(11):M724-730

2. Phinney SD: The assessment of protein nutrition in the hospitalized patient. Clin Lab Med 1981;1:767-774

3. Konstantinides FN, Kostantinides NN, Li JC, et al: Urinary urea nitrogen: too insensitive for calculating nitrogen balance studies in surgical clinical nutrition. J Parenter Enteral Nutr 1991;15:189-193

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