In this article, we review the currently available techniques for measuring small intestinal and colonic transit. In addition, we describe the characteristics of an ideal test that provided the rationale for the development and validation of a gastrointestinal and colonic transit test at the Mayo Clinic. This new technique assesses regional transit of solid radiolabeled particles of the same size through the entire digestive tract and provides further insights into motor physiologic processes of the gut. By means of a delayed-release methacrylate-coated capsule, isotopically labeled pellets are delivered to the colon as a single bolus; thereby, dispersion of isotope throughout the small bowel is avoided because of the gradual emptying of chyme from the stomach. Similar pellets labeled with a different isotope can be used to assess gastric and small bowel transit. These new methods for measuring transit have also led to insights into the pathogenesis of unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms and disease states. Thus, we demonstrated that in healthy subjects, ileocolonic transfer of chyme occurs in boluses; this transfer is impaired in patients with myopathic pseudo-obstruction. The emptying rate of the proximal colon is an important determinant of the pathophysiologic features of colonic disease; thus, colonic transit is delayed in cases of severe idiopathic constipation. In contrast, rapid emptying of the proximal colon influences stool weight in diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. An integrated approach for studying gastric, small bowel, and colonic transit by using the same radiolabeled particle provides a useful, clinically applicable method for evaluating gastrointestinal symptoms and for measuring motor function of the entire digestive tract without need for intubation; cost and radiation exposure are acceptable.
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