Details of physical symptoms, psychological and social dysfunction of 42 outpatients diagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were collected by interview and questionnaire. Social stresses and problems were also elicited as well as the impact of symptoms on their subjects' daily lives. High proportions of subjects were handicapped in their social, sexual and working lives by IBS symptoms and social stresses and problems were common. Forty-eight per cent were classified as having a 'minor psychiatric illness' using the Clinical Psychiatric Interview. Women were more severely affected by physical symptoms (with the exception of diarrhoea) and were more likely to be in pain longer and for more days in the month. They were also more likely than men to be diagnosed as having a psychiatric illness.