Dyspepsia is defined as chronic or recurrent symptoms believed to originate in the upper gastrointestinal tract. When routine investigation results in no identifiable explanation for those symptoms patients are labelled as having functional dyspepsia. In community-based surveys, approximately 30% of the otherwise apparently healthy population report dyspeptic symptoms and the majority are believed to have functional dyspepsia. Although only 1 in 4 or 5 patients make use of healthcare resources, this patient category is one of the largest in ambulatory care (1.6 to 5% of all consultations in general practice). The annual frequency of consultations for functional dyspepsia in Sweden has been estimated at 47 per 1000 population. In consequence of its high prevalence and associated absenteeism, the total costs of functional dyspepsia are considerable. In Sweden in 1981, the costs were estimated at $US55 000 per 1000 population ($US113 630 in 1991 dollars). The most cost-effective management strategy remains to be defined. Evidence is accumulating that the traditional 'wait-and-see' policy with initial empirical therapeutic trials without investigation may not be the most cost conserving strategy.