It is named for Robert F. Schilling.
In the first part of the test, the patient is given radiolabeled vitamin B to drink. The most commonly used radiolabels are 57Co and 58Co. An intramuscular injection of unlabeled vitamin B is given at around the same time. The purpose of this injection is to saturate tissue stores with normal vitamin B to prevent radioactive vitamin B 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 B will be absorbed into the body. Since the body already has liver receptors for transcobalamin/vitamin B saturated by the injection, much of the ingested vitamin B will be excreted in the urine.
A normal result shows at least 5% of the radiolabelled vitamin B 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 B 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 B 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 Schilling's test, B 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 B. This allows for only a single radioactive urine collection.
Note that the B shot which begins the Schilling's test is enough to go a considerable way toward treating B deficiency, so the test is also a partial treatment for B deficiency. Also, the classic Schilling test can be performed at any time, even after full B repletion and correction of the anemia, and it will still show if the cause of the B deficiency was intrinsic-factor related. In fact, some clinicians have suggested that full folate and B replacement be normally performed before a Schilling's test is done, since folate and B deficiencies are both known to interfere with intestinal cell function, and thus cause malabsorption of B 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 B malabsorption.
Many labs have stopped performing the Schilling's test, due to lack of production of the cobalt radioisotopes and labeled-B test substances.
|Part 1 test result||Part 2 test result||Diagnosis|