Our objective was to obtain national data of the estimated prevalence, sociodemographic relationships, and health impact of persons with functional gastrointestinal disorders. We surveyed a stratified probability random sample of U.S. householders selected from a data base of a national market firm (National Family Opinion, Inc.). Questions were asked about bowel symptoms, sociodemographic associations, work absenteeism, and physician visits. The sampling frame was constructed to be demographically similar to the U.S. householder population based on geographic region, age of householder, population density, household income, and household size. Of 8250 mailings, 5430 were returned suitable for analysis (66% response). The survey assessed the prevalence of 20 functional gastrointestinal syndromes based on fulfillment of multinational diagnostic (Rome) criteria. Additional variables studied included: demographic status, work absenteeism, health care use, employment status, family income, geographic area of residence, population density, and number of persons in household. For this sample, 69% reported having at least one of 20 functional gastrointestinal syndromes in the previous three months. The symptoms were attributed to four major anatomic regions: esophageal (42%), gastroduodenal (26%), bowel (44%), and anorectal (26%), with considerable overlap. Females reported greater frequencies of globus, functional dysphagia, irritable bowel syndrome, functional constipation, functional abdominal pain, functional biliary pain and dyschezia; males reported greater frequencies of aerophagia and functional bloating. Symptom reporting, except for incontinence, declines with age, and low income is associated with greater symptom reporting. The rate of work/school absenteeism and physician visits is increased for those having a functional gastrointestinal disorder. Furthermore, the greatest rates are associated with those having gross fecal incontinence and certain more painful functional gastrointestinal disorders such as chronic abdominal pain, biliary pain, functional dyspepsia and IBS. Preliminary information on the prevalence, socio-demographic features and health impact is provided for persons who fulfill diagnostic criteria for functional gastrointestinal disorders.