Dysmotility of the duodenum and proximal jejunum has been reported in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. This study extended these findings by recording fasting ambulatory motility from electronic strain gauge sensors sited in the jejunum and ileum of eight diarrhoea predominant irritable bowel syndrome patients and 12 healthy controls. During the day, periodicity of migrating motor complexes mean (SEM) did not differ between patients (92 (10) min) and controls (85 (7) min). At night, periodicity was shorter in both patients and controls, and the daytime dominance of phase II was replaced by phase I. In both groups, aboral progression of phase III fronts was associated with a slowing of propagation velocity and maximum contractile rate, but an increase in mean amplitude of contraction. Discrete clustered contractions were seen in seven patients and 10 controls occupying 14 and 16% of daytime phase II activity, respectively. Pain episodes were not associated with any specific motility patterns. Despite the lack of motility differences between the two groups, orocaecal transit time in the irritable bowel syndrome patients was shorter at 57 (9) min than in the controls, 82 (6) min (p < 0.05). This ambulant study has failed to show any abnormalities of fasting small intestinal motility that might distinguish diarrhoea predominant irritable bowel syndrome patients from healthy controls.