Gastric emptying was studied in 18 symptomatic and 16 asymptomatic patients after Billroth II (BII) resection (without vagotomy) and the possible relationships between emptying and postprandial symptoms in these patients were assessed. The BII patients were compared with 20 nonoperated patients who had duodenal ulcer disease and 16 healthy subjects. Gastric emptying of two test meals (a semisolid porridge meal and a solid pancake meal) was measured with a radionuclide technique. The major difference between the BII patients and control subjects and duodenal ulcer patients was an increased rate of emptying of the semisolid meal in the first 5 minutes after meal consumption. The percentage of the meal remaining in the stomach at 5 minutes after completion was significantly less in the symptomatic (45.3% +/- 4.3%) than in the asymptomatic BII patients (79.4% +/- 2.6%). A positive correlation was demonstrated between the initial emptying rate of semisolids and the intensity of postprandial nausea (p less than 0.01), vomiting (p less than 0.05), and vasomotor symptoms (p less than 0.001). The duration of the lag phase for solid and semisolid meals was shorter in BII patients than in healthy subjects but was as short in nonoperated duodenal ulcer patients. The duration of the lag phase for solid food in the BII patients correlated positively with the score for postprandial epigastric pain (p less than 0.001). The rate of emptying of the solid meal was lower in symptomatic BII patients (28.1% +/- 3.6% per hour) than in asymptomatic patients (47.8% +/- 7.2% per hour) and correlated with the severity of postprandial fullness and nausea. The emptying of the solid meal was inversely related to the initial emptying rate of the semisolid meal (p less than 0.05). Therefore, the results of this study support the assumption that many of the postprandial symptoms occurring after BII resection reflect alterations in gastric emptying. Some of the emptying abnormalities present after BII resection may be related to duodenal ulcer disease rather than to the surgical procedure.