Bowel transit time

Definition

Bowel transit time refers to how long it takes for the food to move from the mouth to the end of the intestine (anus).

This article talks about the medical test used to determine bowel transit time using a radiopaque marker testing.

How the Test is Performed

You will be asked to swallow multiple radiopaque markers (show up on x-ray) in a capsule, bead, or ring.

The movement of the marker in the digestive tract will be tracked using x-ray, done at set times over several days.

The number and location of markers are noted.

How to Prepare for the Test

You may not need to prepare for this test. However, your provider may recommend you follow a high-fiber diet. You will likely be asked to avoid laxatives, enemas, and other medicines that change the way your bowels function.

How the Test will Feel

You will not feel the capsule move through your digestive system.

Why the Test is Performed

The test helps determine bowel function. You may need this test done to evaluate the cause of constipation or other problems involving difficulty passing stool.

Normal Results

The bowel transit time varies, even in the same person.

What Abnormal Results Mean

If more than 20% of the marker is present in the colon after 5 days, you may have slowed bowel function. The report will note what area the markers appear to collect.

Risks

There are no risks.

Considerations

The bowel transit time test is rarely done these days. Instead, bowel transit is often measured with small probes called manometry. Your provider can tell you if this is needed for your condition.


Review Date: 6/21/2018
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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