Use of X-ray to Assess Fecal Loading in Patients with Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Dig Dis Sci. 2019 Dec;64(12):3589-3595. doi: 10.1007/s10620-019-05770-9. Epub 2019 Aug 6.


Background/aims: There is currently no gold standard for evaluating stool burden in the colon for patients with gastrointestinal symptoms. We aim to examine the relationship between fecal loading on single view abdominal X-ray imaging and gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and accidental bowel leakage in adult outpatients.

Methods: This retrospective, cross-sectional study examined patients seen at University of Michigan from 2005 to 2017. Chart review of demographic information, reported gastrointestinal symptoms, past medical history, and abdominal radiographic imaging was performed. Bivariate analysis was performed to assess associations between these characteristics and fecal loading. Factors independently associated with fecal loading were identified using logistic regression. Significance was established at p < 0.05.

Results: In total, 319 patients who had an X-ray were included in the final analysis, with 84.0% demonstrating fecal loading on the initial X-ray and most reporting constipation as a symptom (n = 214, 84.3%, p = 0.0334). In logistic regression, a chief complaint of constipation had higher odds of being associated with fecal loading on X-ray compared to diarrhea (adjusted OR 6.41; CI 1.51-27.24, p = 0.0118). Bloating as a reported symptom was statistically significant with an adjusted OR of 2.56 (CI 1.10-5.96, p = 0.0286).

Conclusions: Constipation (as a chief complaint) and bloating (as a symptom) were associated with fecal loading on X-ray imaging, while accidental bowel leakage and diarrhea were not.

Keywords: Accidental bowel leakage; Bloating; Constipation; Diarrhea; Fecal loading; X-ray.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Colon / diagnostic imaging*
  • Constipation / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diarrhea / diagnostic imaging*
  • Fecal Incontinence / diagnostic imaging*
  • Feces*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography, Abdominal
  • Retrospective Studies