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Bowel Transit Time

How It Is Done

Your doctor will give you one or more gel capsules filled with markers that will show up on an X-ray. Follow your doctor's instructions about when to take the capsules. You may take only one capsule. Or you may be told to take one at a certain time for 2 or 3 days in a row. You will then have X-rays taken of your belly. These are usually done on day 5. The percentage of markers that show up on the X-ray tells your doctor if you have a normal bowel transit time.

How It Feels

Bowel transit time tests do not cause pain.

You will not feel discomfort from the X-rays used for the test. The X-ray table may feel hard and the room may be cool. You may find that the positions you need to hold are uncomfortable.

Risks

This test is not recommended if you are pregnant because the radiation from the X-ray can harm your developing baby (fetus).

Results

A bowel transit time test measures how long it takes for food to travel through the digestive tract camera.gif.

Bowel transit time depends on what types of food you eat and how much you drink. Different people have different bowel transit times.

Bowel transit time1
Normal:

Fewer than 20% of the markers show up on an X-ray after 5 days (120 hours).

Slowed:

More than 20% of the markers show up on an X-ray after 5 days (120 hours).

 

What Affects the Test

You may have an abnormal bowel transit time if you:

  • Have an infection in your intestines.
  • Do not drink enough fluids (dehydration).
  • Have a disease, such as a narrowing (stricture) in your intestine, an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), diabetes, or Hirschsprung's disease.
  • Are eating less than you usually do or you are eating different kinds of food than usual.
  • Take medicines, such as cold medicines, iron, or medicine used to control blood pressure and pain.

What To Think About

  • Bowel transit time also can be done using a dye capsule. You swallow a capsule containing a bright red dye and measure the amount of time until you see the red color appear in your stool. You may also measure the time needed for all of the dye to pass through your colon.
  • Many doctors do not think that bowel transit time testing is useful. Different people have different bowel transit times on different days.
  • This test is not recommended if you are or might be pregnant.
  • You can usually speed up bowel transit time if you increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that you eat each day. For more information, see the topic Healthy Eating.
  • It is possible to have a daily bowel movement but still have a slow bowel transit time.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 07, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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