Dysmotility and Motility Dysfunction Disorders

Dysmotility is a term used to describe a health problem in which the muscles of the digestive system do not work as they should. This can result in a change in the speed, strength or coordination of the muscles of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and/or the large intestine. Dysmotility is also known as motility dysfunction.

Woman lying in bed holding her stomach in pain
AnaBGD / iStock Photo

Normal motility is a system of coordinated, orderly muscle contractions from the beginning to the end of your digestive system that facilitates the digestion of the foods that you eat. Dysmotility can result in poor or spastic propulsion of food through your esophagus and stomach, chyme (partially digested food and stomach acids) through your small intestine, and stool through your large intestine. And any change from normal motility can result in unpleasant digestive symptoms.

Symptoms of Dysmotility

Symptoms of a motility dysfunction will vary depending on where the motility problem is showing up. That means dysmotility in the upper parts of the digestive system (esophagus, stomach) is likely to cause upper abdominal pain, burning or discomfort, and possible vomiting. Dysmotility further along the digestive tract (small and large intestines) is more likely to result in lower abdominal pain, cramping, and bowel movement problems (e.g. diarrhea or constipation).


Dysmotility can occur as a result of dysfunction in the nerves and muscles in any of the various organs of your digestive system. There are a wide variety of illnesses that can cause dysmotility as a reflection of the underlying disease state. In other cases, the cause of dysmotility is unknown and is seen as the primary reason for a health problem. These health problems are called motility disorders.

Motility Disorders

The following are some of the primary health problems in which dysmotility is the primary problem behind the diagnosis:

Esophageal Motility Disorders

The following disorders involve a dysmotility in the esophagus:

Stomach Motility Disorders

The following disorders all involve a dysmotility in the stomach:

Small Intestine Dysmotility Disorders

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

Large Intestine Dysmotility Disorders

The following health conditions involve dysmotility in the large intestine:

When a person experiences diarrhea, motility is seen as too rapid — thus the contents of the large intestine are propelled through too quickly, resulting in loose and watery stool. When a person experiences constipation, motility is too slow. This slower transit time results in too much water being drawn from the stool. This creates a stool that is hard and more difficult to pass.

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

Was this page helpful?
Article 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. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Motility disorders. Updated October 2, 2019.

  2. Nicklaus Children's Hospital. Intestinal dysmotility. Updated June 21, 2019.

  3. Kahrilas PJ, Bredenoord AJ, Carlson DA, Pandolfino JE. Advances in management of esophageal motility disorders. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018;16(11):1692-1700. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2018.04.026

  4. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Disorders of the stomach. Updated February 24, 2016.

  5. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Disorders of the large intestine. Updated March 24, 2016.