Symptoms of functional gastrointestinal disorder were sought by a questionnaire administered to 301 apparently healthy subjects in young, middle-aged, and elderly categories. Abdominal pain, a feeling of incomplete evaculation after defecation, urgency, scybala, runny stools, straining at stool, borborygmi, distension, heartburn, and laxative use were all very common. The typical symptom pattern of the spastic irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) occurred in 13.6% of subjects. Seven percent suffered noncolonic pain that was commonly associated with heartburn. A further 3.7% had painless diarrhea without the features of the spastic IBS. Six percent suffered painless constipation. Constipation seemed to increase with age. Thus four clinically distinct functional bowel syndromes existed in almost one-third of the subjects studied. Most of these had not consulted a doctor. Hospital-based studies of the IBS derive from a selected minority of patients and may not be applicable to all sufferers.