Symptoms related to abnormal gastrointestinal motility and function are common. Oropharyngeal and oesophageal dysphagia, heartburn, bloating, abdominal pain and alterations in bowel habits are among the most frequent reasons for seeking medical attention from internists or general practitioners and are also common reasons for referral to gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons. However, the nonspecific nature of gastrointestinal symptoms, the absence of a definitive diagnosis on routine investigations (such as endoscopy, radiology or blood tests) and the lack of specific treatments make disease management challenging. Advances in technology have driven progress in the understanding of many of these conditions. This Review serves as an introduction to a series of Consensus Statements on the clinical measurements of gastrointestinal motility, function and sensitivity. A structured, evidence-based approach to the initial assessment and empirical treatment of patients presenting with gastrointestinal symptoms is discussed, followed by an outline of the contribution of modern physiological measurement on the management of patients in whom the cause of symptoms has not been identified with other tests. Discussions include the indications for and utility of high-resolution manometry, ambulatory pH-impedance monitoring, gastric emptying studies, breath tests and investigations of anorectal structure and function in day-to-day practice and clinical management.
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