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AIMS/METHODS--In 30 patients with functional dyspepsia and in 20 healthy volunteers, ambulatory duodenojejunal manometry was performed to examine the interdigestive and postprandial small intestinal motility patterns in relation to symptoms. RESULTS--In the fasting state, the number of migrating motor complex cycles mean (SEM) was significantly lower in patients, especially in patients with dysmotility-like dyspepsia, than in control subjects (3.8 (0.4), 2.6 (0.5), and 5.3 (0.7) cycles, respectively; p < 0.05), due to a longer duration of phase II. Non-propagated and retrogradely propagated phase III activity was more prevalent in patients than in control subjects (48% v 15%; p = 0.020). During phase II and after dinner no differences were found in contraction incidence, mean amplitude or motility index. However, 1 1/2 hours after completing breakfast the motility index was higher in patients at all three recording levels (p < 0.05). Burst activity was more prevalent in patients than in control subjects (22% v 6% of the subjects; p = 0.003). In 41% of the patients the symptom index was > 75%. CONCLUSIONS--These results suggest that small intestinal motor abnormalities, especially during fasting, participate in the pathogenesis of symptoms in patients with functional dyspepsia. Ambulatory manometry of the small intestine is a valuable tool to demonstrate these abnormalities in outpatients pursuing their daily activities.