The purposes of this study were to assess the esophageal clearance of a radioisotopic bolus in patients with symptoms of reflux and evaluate the impact of manometric abnormalities on scintigraphic esophageal transit. Esophageal clearance was assessed in a supine position and indicated by the retained radioactivity in the esophagus at 10, 20, 30 and 40 s after the ingestion of a liquid bolus labeled with 2 mCi 99 mTc-SC. The study included 214 consecutive patients with symptoms of reflux and 11 normal controls. The results were compared to the motility findings detected on manometry performed on a separate occasion. Esophageal manometry was normal in 93 patients. Nonspecific esophageal motor disorders were identified in 121 patients and were classified into: 'predominantly nonpropagated activity', 'predominantly low-amplitude peristaltic contractions' and 'miscellaneous disorders' diagnosed in 27, 47 and 47 patients, respectively. The radionuclide clearance was significantly delayed in the overall group of patients compared with that of normal controls (P < 0.001); in patients with reflux symptoms and nonspecific esophageal motor disorders compared with patients with reflux symptoms and 'normal manometry' (P < 0.01 at 20 s); and in patients with reflux symptoms and 'normal manometry' compared with the control group (P < 0.01 at 20 s). Abnormal radioisotope clearances were detected in 88% of patients with 'predominantly nonpropagated activity', in 70% of patients with 'predominantly low-amplitude peristaltic contractions' and in 57% of patients with 'miscellaneous disorders'. Radioisotopic esophageal clearance abnormalities are frequently observed in patients with reflux symptoms and are more likely to be associated to hypomotility disorders, i.e. nonpropagated motor activity or low-amplitude contractions.