The transit of a radiolabeled meal through the gastrointestinal tract and stool output were measured in 62 patients with ulcerative colitis, subdivided according to the activity and extent of their disease. The results were compared with those from 20 sex-matched normal subjects. Mouth-to-cecum transit was significantly slower than normal in all patient groups although gastric emptying was normal. Whole gut transit was not accelerated in any group of patients. An abdominal x-ray taken 48 h after ingesting the meal showed that patients with active colitis had proximal colonic stasis, whereas transit through the rectosigmoid region was rapid. Stool weights and frequencies were higher in patients with active colitis than in patients with quiescent disease. Patients with active colitis also passed smaller amounts of stool during each bowel movement, suggesting that they experienced a desire to defecate at lower rectal volumes. These results indicate that (a) diarrhea in ulcerative colitis is associated with rectosigmoid irritability rather than rapid transit and (b) caution should be used when treating active colitis with antidiarrheal drugs that could further retard proximal colonic transit.