Dysmotility and Motility Dysfunction Disorders

Dysmotility (also known as motility dysfunction) is a condition in which muscles of the digestive system do not work as they should. It can involve abnormal speed, strength, or coordination of the muscles of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and/or the large intestine.

Woman lying in bed holding her stomach in pain
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Symptoms of Dysmotility

Symptoms of a motility dysfunction will vary depending on which areas of your digestive system are affected and which type of motility problem you are having. Dysphagia (trouble swallowing) is a major symptom of dysmotility.

  • Often, dysmotility in the upper parts of the digestive system (esophagus or stomach) causes upper abdominal pain, burning or discomfort, and possible vomiting.
  • Dysmotility of the lower parts of the digestive tract (small or large intestine) is more likely to result in lower abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea or constipation.
  • Rapid dysmotility usually causes diarrhea because the contents of the digestive system are propelled too quickly, resulting in loose, watery stool.
  • When motility is too slow, constipation occurs due to a slow transit time and physiological movement of fluid that makes stool hard and difficult to pass.


Normally, the muscle contractions of your digestive system operate in a coordinated, orderly manner to facilitate the digestion of the foods that you eat. Dysmotility can result in slow and/or fast movement of food or chyme (partially digested food and stomach acids).

Any change from normal motility can result in digestive symptoms.

Dysmotility can occur as a result of dysfunction in the nerves and muscles in any region of your digestive system. A variety of illnesses can cause dysmotility, but sometimes the cause of dysmotility is unknown.


Motility disorders are divided into major and minor, and some disorders tend to affect certain areas of the digestive system.

Major motility disorders include achalasia, diffuse esophageal spasm, and Jackhammer Esophagus. Minor motility disorders include ineffective motility and fragmented peristalsis.

The following disorders involve dysmotility in the esophagus:

  • Achalasia
  • Diffuse esophageal spasm (also known as distal esophageal spasm)

The following disorders involve dysmotility in the stomach:

The following conditions are related to dysmotility in the small intestine:

The following health conditions involve dysmotility in the large intestine:

Motility dysfunction and visceral hypersensitivity are considered to be the two hallmark physiological problems underlying IBS.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nicklaus Children's Hospital. Intestinal dysmotility.

  2. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Motility disorders.

  3. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Disorders of the stomach.

  4. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Disorders of the large intestine.