The Pellet Study

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Sometimes having a child with a chronic illness is like becoming part of a secret society.  You suddenly become well versed in a world of specialised language, medical tests and medicines that you never knew existed in your life pre-diagnosis.  Having spent a long time researching EGID both before and after M’s diagnosis, I thought I had come across most things, even if I had no idea what half of them were and whether they’d ever be relevant to M, but the turmoil of the last couple of months and the subsequent plan of action put into place with GOSH was to show me just how wrong I was.

As I agreed with the registrar over the phone about the next steps we needed to take following M’s abdominal x-ray, the words “pellet study” and “slow transit colon” were thrown in my direction.  The brief explanation given was probably not enough to satisfy my inner control freak, who needs to know everything and understand the whys and the wherefores, but I figured that I could boost my understanding by a quick further investigation with Dr Google.  Sadly, I hadn’t anticipated just how difficult I would find it to get the details and comprehension that I needed from that source.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

This time round however, I knew where to turn.  Within minutes of getting off the phone to GOSH and my failed attempts to uncover more useful information on the internet, I hopped across from Google to Facebook and posted a question on the FABED forum.  I may have mentioned just once or twice before how wonderfully knowledgeable the wonderful FABED parents are and this time was to prove no exception.  A couple of hours after my original posting, several Mums had offered their support and advice and one even offered to phone me and talk it through.

Michelle, if you’re reading this, you were an absolute life-saver with that offer and that phone-call.  I really can’t thank you enough.

I now had a better understanding of what the pellet study was, what they were looking for and some key pointers to discuss with the doctors before we took the test any further.  Most importantly, I had some affirmation that my belief that waiting until October to perform the study, as was originally proposed, was just too long, especially for my desperately unhappy lad and I felt confident that I could go back to GOSH and argue my case.

As it happens, this turned out to be unnecessary as my follow-up call after the Movicol introduction, saw me talking to a new registrar, who agreed that we needed to be testing M now to understand what was going on with him and to make sure we were doing all that we could to help him back to the road of recovery.  However, I was able to ask my questions, understand not only what they were looking for, but what they would do with their findings and know where we were headed over the next few months.

The pellet study looks at how quickly food moves through the intestinal tract and whether there are any issues with a slow transit that could have led to M’s chronic constipation.  Over 3 days, M needed to take a series of “pellets”, which are capsules containing mildly radioactive and different shaped markers.  The pellets are taken at the same time on 3 consecutive days and then on the 4th day, he had another abdominal x-ray.  The images below show how the x-rays could turn out:

As you can see, image 1 shows a person with normal transit, who would have passed all or most of the markers out of their body by the time the x-ray is taken.  Number 2 shows someone with a slow-transit intestine, which means that the body is failing to move food through the intestinal tract as it should, which can lead to constipation.  The final image shows that whilst the transition through the intestines has worked as it should, a blockage at some point has prevented the markers being passed out as they should.

If M’s x-ray turns out to be like image number 1, then we are back to the drawing board to understand what’s going on in his insides, but a normal transition is great news.  Number 2 means the introduction of medicine number 8, a stimulant laxative which would effectively irritate the intestines into reacting as they should and push the food eaten along the intestinal tract.  Number 3 would be an indication that there is a blockage of some description at a point in the bowel and carries the likelihood for investigative surgery to find out what that blockage is.  None of them is an ideal answer, but at least we feel that we’re being proactive in trying to find out exactly what’s going on.


So, the million dollar question has to be – Which x-ray image will M have?  Answers on a postcard please…

5 thoughts on “The Pellet Study

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