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J Palliat Med. 2013 May;16(5):542-5. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2012.0379. Epub 2013 Apr 27.

A pilot study to assess the feasibility of measuring the prevalence of slow colon transit or evacuation disorder in palliative care.

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Department of Palliative Care, Calvary Mater Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia.



Constipation is prevalent in palliative care. Whilst numerous factors contribute to this problem, opioid analgesia remains the most quoted aetiology. However, in gastroenterology, constipation is classified as a problem of prolonged transit times of colonic contents, impaired function of the structures of defecation or both. Little work in palliative care has used these assessments.


The report aims to describe the feasibility of assessing the colon transit times and pelvic floor structures of constipated palliative care patients and to report the results of a pilot study of 10 people who underwent these investigations.


Colon transit times were measured with a combination of orally administered radio-opaque markers and a single plain radiograph of the abdomen at day 5. Anal manometry plus rectal balloon expulsion was used to assess the pelvic floor. The results of the investigations were used to allocate people to one of four constipation subcategories: 1). slow colonic transit; 2) evacuation disorders; 3) mixed disorder or 4) normal transit.


Two people had slow transit only, 2 people had evacuation disorders only and 5 had both. Only person had neither problem. The investigations were well tolerated and took a small amount of people's time.


These pilot data strongly support the feasibility of undertaking comprehensive assessments of the colon and pelvic floor in palliative care patients with the results, although preliminary, highlighting the complexity of the problem of constipation. The results of this work underpin the need to progress to a much larger study.

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