A study of irritable bowel-type symptoms in 1264 health examinees using a self-administered questionnaire and psychological tests revealed they are common throughout adulthood. Of affected subjects 68% were female, and those with the more severe type (> or = 3 Manning criteria) were predominantly female (80%). Fewer Asians than other racial/ethnic groups had these symptoms. Nongastrointestinal symptoms, physician visits, incontinence, laxative use, a stress effect on bowel pattern and abdominal pain, abdominal surgery, hysterectomy, childhood abuse, use of mind-altering drugs, depression, and anxiety were correlated with irritable bowel-type symptoms. Regression analysis found some of the clinical correlates were independent markers for irritable bowel-type symptoms and that sexual abuse was related to nongastrointestinal symptoms and abdominal surgery independent of irritable bowel-type symptoms. More severe irritable bowel-type symptoms were especially associated with nongastrointestinal symptoms, stress effects, sexual abuse, use of sedatives and oral narcotics, and a past alcohol problem. There are important demographic and clinical correlates with irritable bowel-type symptoms.