Many patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have symptoms suggestive of disturbances in gastric emptying, but so far no abnormalities in gastric emptying have been demonstrated in these patients. We studied gastric emptying of a solid meal with a 99mTc-labeled pancake in 16 healthy volunteers (8 women and 8 men; age, 20-33 years; mean age, 25 years) and 16 predominantly constipated IBS patients (10 women and 6 men; age, 17-43 years; mean age, 25 years). The incidence and severity of the symptoms nausea, vomiting, early satiety, and pain in the upper abdomen were scored. The duration of the lag phase of gastric emptying of the solid meal did not differ between the groups (controls, 16.6 +/- 4.7 min; IBS patients, 22.2 +/- 14.7 min). In normal subjects lag phase duration and emptying rate were correlated (r = 0.49, p greater than 0.05); in the IBS patients they were not. Post-lag gastric emptying of the solid meal was slower (p less than 0.01) in the IBS patients (0.58 +/- 0.24%/min) than in the control subjects (0.85 +/- 0.24%/min). No correlations were found, however, between the emptying rate and the severity of the upper abdominal symptoms. This study is the first to demonstrate that gastric emptying is delayed in IBS patients. This abnormality, however, appears not to be the major determinant of the upper abdominal symptoms often present in these patients.