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Bowel transit time

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.

How the Test is Performed

You will be asked to swallow two gelatin capsules filled with a colored food dye. You take these capsules with a meal.

Afterwards, you observe your bowel movements and write down how long it takes for the colored dye to first appear. You'll also need to note how long it takes for the color to disappear from the stools.

How to Prepare for the Test

In most cases, you do not need to prepare for this test. However, you should follow any diet or other directions from the health care provider.

How the Test will Feel

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

Why the Test is Performed

The test helps determine bowel function.

Your doctor may ask you to record transit times as you introduce fiber into your diet. Your diet affects the bowel transit time. For example, if you eat a lot of foods rich in fiber (whole grains, vegetables, and fruits), you will have a more rapid transit time and a heavier, bulkier stool.

Normal Results

The bowel transit time varies, even in the same person. The color should first appear in the stool about 12 to 14 hours after it is taken. The last of the color will appear within 36 to 48 hours.

What Abnormal Results Mean

If the transit time is 72 hours or more, you may have slowed bowel function.

Risks

There are no risks.

Considerations

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

References

Andrews JM, Blackshaw LA. Small intestine motor and sensory function and dysfunction. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Sleisenger MH, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 97.

Camilleri M. Disorders of gastrointestinal motility. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 138.

Update Date: 8/19/2014

Updated by: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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