We examined whether patients with irritable bowel syndrome have increased airway responsiveness by measuring forced expiratory volumes in 1 second (FEV1) after inhalation of increasing concentrations of methacholine. Responses obtained in 11 IBS patients were compared with those obtained in 11 normal subjects and in 11 subjects with organic disease of the gut or its related organs. All subjects were selected so that other factors that might contribute to increased airway responsiveness were excluded. The methacholine concentration that caused a 20% fall in the FEV1 (PC20), as well as the reduction in FEV1 induced by each methacholine concentration, were used to assess airway responsiveness. The geometric mean PC20 was 197.6 mg/mL (%SEM, 1.15) for normal subjects, 83.9 mg/mL (%SEM, 1.51) for subjects with organic bowel disease (P = 0.012), and only 12.8 mg/mL (%SEM, 1.74) for IBS patients (P less than 0.0001). The 22.5% +/- 2.5% decrease in FEV1 induced by 64 mg/mL of methacholine in IBS patients was significantly greater than that of 12.3% +/- 1.5% observed in healthy subjects (P = 0.003). In contrast, the 15.7% +/- 2.0% decrease in FEV1 observed in patients with organic disease was not different from that seen in normal subjects (P = 0.189). We conclude that IBS is associated with increased airway responsiveness following challenge with methacholine.