In this study, total gut transit and regional colonic transit in patients with idiopathic constipation were measured scintigraphically. Eight patients with severe constipation were studied, none of whom had evidence of abnormal function of the pelvic floor. 99mTc-radiolabeled Amberlite resin particles (average diameter, 1 mm; Sigma Chemical Co., St. Louis, MO) with a mixed meal were used to assess gastric emptying and small bowel transit; similar particles labeled with 111In were ingested in a coated capsule that dispersed in the ileocecal region. These were used to quantify colonic transit. Five healthy volunteers were also studied. Two patients showed delayed gastric emptying and two had slow small bowel transit. Seven of the eight patients had slow colonic transit. In five, delay affected the whole colon ("pancolonic inertia"); in two, transit in the ascending and transverse colon was normal, but solids moved through the left colon slowly. Mean colonic transit was also measured using radiopaque markers; this technique identified the patients with slow transit, as shown by measurements of overall colonic transit by simultaneous scintigraphy. However, estimated transit through the ascending and transverse colons was considerably shorter by the radiopaque marker technique. In conclusion, idiopathic constipation is characterized by either exaggerated reservoir functions of the ascending and transverse colons and/or impairment of propulsive function in the descending colon. Particle size may influence the result of regional colonic transit tests. Transit delays in other parts of the gut suggest that, in some patients, the condition may be a more generalized motor dysfunction.