Chronic hypergastrinaemia causes gastric enterochromaffin cell proliferation and carcinoid tumours. The only reliable means to diagnose enterochromaffin cell changes/carcinoids is by biopsy. To assess whether serum histamine, chromogranin A or serotonin and urinary N-methylimidazoleacetic acid or 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid correlate with advanced enterochromaffin cell changes or gastric carcinoids in patients with gastrinomas. Consecutive patients (n=145) had the above assays and endoscopy with gastric biopsies. Lower N-methylimidazoleacetic acid and chromogranin A levels (P < 0.0001) occurred in disease-free patients. In patients with active disease, the fasting serum gastrin levels correlated (P < 0.0001) with both chromogranin A and N-methylimidazoleacetic acid levels. Chromogranin A (P=0.005), but not N-methylimidazoleacetic acid, serotonin, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid or histamine levels, correlated with the enterochromaffin cell index. Carcinoids, but not advanced enterochromaffin cell changes only, were associated with higher chromogranin A and N-methylimidazoleacetic acid levels. Serum chromogranin A levels and urinary N-methylimidazoleacetic acid levels, but not serum histamine or serotonin or urinary 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, correlate with the presence of gastric carcinoids. However, no assay identified patients with advanced enterochromaffin cell changes only with high sensitivity/specificity. Thus, N-methylimidazoleacetic acid and chromogranin A levels are unable to identify patients with advanced changes in enterochromaffin cells and therefore neither can replace routine gastric biopsies.