Altered bowel habit commonly occurs in thyroid disease. We measured orocaecal transit in healthy volunteers and in hyperthyroid and hypothyroid patients before and after treatment, using the lactulose hydrogen breath test incorporating a standard liquid meal to obtain a more physiological assessment. Mean transit time in 12 control subjects was 85 (8) minutes (mean (SE)) (mean coefficient of variation between replicate studies, 8.6% (3%)). In eighteen hyperthyroid patients transit was more rapid at 49 (4) minutes (p less than 0.01). Ten hypothyroid patients had a transit time similar to controls at 91 (9) minutes. Transit time returned to normal in thyrotoxic patients after treatment but in eight hypothyroid patients retested, it remained unchanged. Our findings suggest that (a) the inclusion of a liquid meal provides a reproducible method of measuring orocaecal transit using the lactulose hydrogen breath test, (b) rapid small bowel transit in thyrotoxicosis may be one factor in the diarrhoea which is a feature of the disease and (c) if altered gut transit is the cause of sluggish bowel habit in hypothyroidism, delay in the colon, and not small bowel, is likely to be responsible.
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