Clinical and physiological heterogeneity in slow transit constipation: a review of 122 patients


Mr Lunniss Senior Lecturer, Academic Department of Surgery, Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London E1 1BB, UK.



The outcome of surgery in patients with slow transit constipation (STC) is unpredictable. This may reflect clinical and physiological heterogeneity within this group of patients. This study attempts to identify subgroups of patients with STC according to clinical history, and compares the pathophysiological findings between the two largest: including patients with chronic idiopathic STC, and those with symptoms acquired after pelvic surgery or childbirth (post-pelvic intervention STC).

Patients and methods

Review of clinical and gastrointestinal pathophysiological findings of 122 consecutive patients with slow colonic transit.


Six subgroups of patients were defined according to the time and nature of onset of symptoms. Pathophysiological comparison of the two main groups: chronic idiopathic STC (n=65 (53%)) and post-pelvic intervention STC (n=22 (18%)), yielded three main conclusions: (i) the pattern of colonic transit is similar in both groups, i.e. predominantly (approximately 70%) generalized; (ii) the prevalence of a rectal evacuatory disorder is significantly higher in patients with post-pelvic intervention STC (77% vs 32%, P=0.004); and (iii) small bowel motility disturbances occur in both groups (overall 48%), and are therefore not limited to patients with chronic idiopathic STC.


There are pathophysiological similarities and differences between the main two subgroups of STC. Such findings may help our understanding of the pathogenesis and have implications in the future management of these patients.