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Error analysis of classic colonic transit time estimates.

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  • 1Hôpital Laennec, Laboratory of Digestive Physiology, 75007 Paris, France.


Estimates of colonic transit times (CTT) through the three colonic segments, right colon, left colon, and rectosigmoid, are commonly based on radiopaque markers. For a given segment, CTT is usually calculated from just the number of markers visible in that segment on abdominal X-rays. This procedure is only strictly valid for the theoretical, but unrealistic, case of continuous marker ingestion (i. e., not for a single or once-daily ingestion). CTT was analyzed using the usual estimate of the mean CTT of one marker and also using a new, more realistic estimate based on the kinetic coefficients of a three-compartment colonic model. We directly compared our compartmental approach to classic CTT estimates by double-marker studies in six patients. We also retrospectively studied CTT in 148 healthy control subjects (83 males, 65 females) and 1,309 subjects with functional bowel disorders (irritable bowel syndrome or constipation). Compared with the compartmental estimates, the classic approach systematically underestimates CTT in both populations, i.e., in patients and in healthy control subjects. The relative error could easily reach 100% independent of the site of colonic transit delay. The normal values of total CTT are then 44.3+/-29.3 instead of 30.1+/-23.6 h for males and 68.2+/-54.4 instead of 47.1+/-28.2 h for females.

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