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Schilling test

The Schilling's test is a medical investigation used in patients with vitamin B12 deficiency. The purpose of the test is to determine if the patient has pernicious anemia. There are a few variations on the exact procedure used.

In the first part of the test, the patient is given radiolabeled vitamin B12 to drink. The most commonly used radiolabels are 57Co and 58Co. An intramuscular injection of unlabeled vitamin B12 is given at around the same time. The purpose of this injection is to saturate tissue stores with normal vitamin B12 to prevent radioactive vitamin B12 binding in body tissues, so that if absorbed, it will pass into the urine. The patient's urine is then collected over the next 24 hours to assess the absorption.

Normally, the ingested radiolabeled vitamin B12 will be absorbed into the body. Since the body already has liver receptors for transcobalamin/vitamin B12 saturated by the injection, much of the ingested vitamin B12 will be excreted in the urine.

A normal result shows at least 10% of the radiolabelled vitamin B12 in the urine over the first 24 hours. In patients with pernicious anemia or with deficiency due to impaired absorption, less than 5% of the radiolabeled vitamin B12 is detected.

If an abnormality is found, the test is repeated, this time with additional oral intrinsic factor. If this second urine collection is normal, this shows a lack of intrinsic factor production, or pernicious anemia. A low result on the second test implies abnormal intestinal absorption (malabsorption), which could be caused by coeliac disease, biliary disease, Whipple's disease, fish tapeworm infestation (Diphyllobothrium latum), or liver disease. Malabsorption of B12 can be caused by intestinal dysfunction from a low vitamin level in-and-of-itself (see below), causing test result confusion if repletion has not been done for some days previously.

In some versions of the Shilling's test, B12 can be given both with and without intrinsic factor at the same time, using different cobalt radioisotopes 57Co and 58Co, which have different radiation signatures, in order to differentiate the two forms of B12. This allows for only a single radioactive urine collection.

Note that the B12 shot which begins the Shilling's test is enough to go a considerable way toward treating B12 deficiency, so the test is also a partial treatment for B12 deficiency. Also, the classic Shilling test can be performed at any time, even after full B12 repletion and correction of the anemia, and it will still show if the cause of the B12 deficiency was intrinsic-factor related. In fact, some clinicians have suggested that full folate and B12 replacement be normally performed before a Shilling's test is done, since folate and B12 deficiencies are both known to interfere with intestinal cell function, and thus cause malabsorption of B12 on their own, even if intrinsic factor is being made. This state would then tend to cause a false-positive test for intrinsic factor-related B12 malabsorption.

Many labs have stopped performing the Shilling's test, due to lack of production of the cobalt radioisotopes and labeled-B12 test substances.

Part 1 test result Part 2 test result Diagnosis
Normal - Normal
Low Normal Pernicious anemia
Low Low Malabsorption
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Schilling_test". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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