Dysphagia and chest pain are well-described symptoms in subjects with achalasia, diffuse esophageal spasm (DES), and high-amplitude peristaltic contractions, a subset of nonspecific motor disorders (NEMD). We observed a high incidence of chest pain and dysphagia in a different NEMD subgroup characterized by prolonged peristaltic contractile duration (PPCD) and normal contractile amplitude. We compared the manometric characteristics of patients with PPCD to healthy controls and compared the clinical profile of PPCD patients to that of patients with achalasia, DES, and high-amplitude peristalsis. In 20 patients with PPCD, mean contractile duration was 7.4 +/- 0.3 sec, significantly greater than healthy controls (3.7 +/- 0.1 sec) (P less than 0.001). PPCD was associated with an 85% incidence of chest pain and 65% incidence of dysphagia. These symptoms were similar to those observed in patients with achalasia, DES, and high-amplitude peristalsis. In PPCD patients, chest pain was more frequently of long duration in comparison to achalasia and DES. PPCD was encountered more frequently than either achalasia or DES in patients referred to our laboratory. This study suggests that in symptomatic NEMD patients, abnormal duration of peristaltic contractions, rather than abnormal amplitude, may be a distinguishing manometric feature.