A method for determining the profiles of gastric emptying, small intestinal residence, and colonic filling of a solid test meal, labelled with 250 microCi 99mTechnetium sulphur colloid has been evaluated in nine healthy volunteers and six patients with a disturbance in bowel habit. Mean small bowel transit time was determined by deconvolving the rate of colonic filling with the rate of gastric emptying. In normal subjects, the stomach appeared to empty exponentially with a half time of 1.2 +/- 0.3 hours (mean +/- SD). Food reached the colon by 2.8 +/- 1.5 hours. The mean small bowel transit time was 4.0 +/- 1.4 hours. In most normal subjects, the colon appeared to fill in a linear fashion with approximately 16% food residues entering every hour, and the profile of colonic filling in normal subjects was similar to the profile of ileal emptying observed after feeding a similar radiolabelled solid meal to 14 patients equipped with terminal ileostomies. There was a highly significant correlation between the onset of breath hydrogen excretion and the appearance of radioactivity over the caecum (r = 0.88, p less than 0.01), though in one third of subjects the increase in caecal radioactivity preceded the rise in breath hydrogen concentration by more than 20 minutes. There was also a highly significant correlation between the mean transit time and values for colonic filling but not values for gastric emptying. Patients with irritable bowel syndrome who had diarrhoea tended towards short small bowel transit and early colonic filling, whereas patients who have constipation tended towards long small bowel transit and delayed colonic filling. This method offers a novel means of assessing small bowel transit time, small bowel residence and the profile of colonic filling in man.
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