We studied the pathophysiology of diarrhea in ulcerative colitis by evaluating and comparing rectosigmoid motility before, during, and after a 900-cal meal in healthy subjects, patients with quiescent ulcerative colitis, and patients with active ulcerative colitis. Three intraluminal pressure transducers were used for recording of rectosigmoid motility. Motility during fasting, eating, and after eating a meal was similar in patients with quiescent disease and controls. Motility increased significantly during eating in controls, but not in patients with quiescent disease. In patients with active colitis, motility was significantly reduced during fasting, eating, and after eating, compared with controls. Motility increased significantly during eating in patients with active disease. Propagated activity was similar in the three study groups; therefore, the decreased motility was due to decrease in segmental contractions. These findings suggest that diarrhea in patients with active colitis may be related to the loss of normal segmental contractions which delay distal stool transport.