From 1990 through 1993, we treated 36 patients with recurrent typical biliary colic but who showed no ultrasonic evidence of cholelithiasis by laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Associated symptoms included nausea (75%), bloating (56%), fatty-food intolerance (53%), vomiting (17%), weight loss (31%), bowel irregularity (28%), reflux or dyspepsia (25%), and fever (17%). Diagnostic evaluation included ultrasound (100%), upper gastrointestinal series (36%), oral cholecystogram (14%), computed tomographic scan (39%), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (17%), upper gastrointestinal endoscopy (14%), and hepatobiliary scan (92%). Quantitative hepatobiliary scans in 33 patients revealed a low gallbladder ejection fraction (EF) of less than 35% in 29 patients (88%; mean EF = 9%), and 13 patients experienced reproducible pain after cholecystokinin provocation. All patients underwent attempted laparoscopic cholecystectomy; one case of unsuspected acute acalculous cholecystitis was converted to open laparotomy because of unclear anatomy. Gross and histological examination of the gallbladders revealed chronic inflammation (83%), cholesterolosis (31%), cholesterol crystals or small stones (17%), acute inflammation (8%), polyps (6%), and normal histology (6%); however, blind retrospective scoring of gallbladders revealed significant chronic inflammation in only 38%. In the 2 to 40 months (mean, 14 months) since operation, there have been no deaths (97% follow-up). Laparoscopic cholecystectomy relieved pain in 93% of patients with a low preoperative EF compared with 75% of patients with a normal EF (nonsignificant p value). Persistent abdominal or gastrointestinal complaints included flatulence (31%), loose stools or fecal urgency (29%), belching (29%), indigestion (20%), nausea (11%), and "typical" gallbladder pain (9%). We conclude that many patients with symptoms of biliary colic and scintigraphic evidence of biliary dyskinesia have histologic findings of chronic cholecystitis. Although laparoscopic cholecystectomy usually eliminates biliary colic, persistent nonbiliary complaints are frequent.