Health-care-seeking behaviors related to bowel complaints may vary between ethnic groups. A survey of a nonpatient population in El Paso, Texas, was conducted in order to examine differences in health care behavior related to bowel dysfunction, and in the perception of health and bowel function, in Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites. Data from 905 subjects who were either Hispanic (580) or non-Hispanic white (325) given a forced-choice, self-report questionnaire were used for analysis. Data on health care behavior variables were studied using logistic regression, in ethnic and gender groups, controlling for age and socioeconomic status. A log-linear analysis was applied to health perception variables in ethnic and gender groups. Hispanics were less likely than non-Hispanic whites to have seen a physician for bowel symptoms (P < 0.02). Of the subjects with symptoms compatible with irritable bowel syndrome, Hispanics were less likely to have seen a physician (P < 0.05). More Hispanics reported buying folk remedies (P < 0.001), and herbal teas were taken more often to maintain good bowel function (P < 0.02) and to treat bowel problems (P < 0.005). Additionally, Hispanics had a poorer perception of their health in general (P < 0.001), reported more concern about their health (P < 0.02), more concern about bowel function (P < 0.001), and more time spent attending to bowel function (P < 0.001). Therefore, data on health-care-seeking behaviors related to bowel dysfunction showed that Hispanics were less likely than non-Hispanic whites to seek health care for bowel complaints and that Hispanics were more likely to self-medicate with folk remedies to maintain good bowel function. The perception of health and bowel function is in part determined by ethnic differences.