To determine whether the natural history of strictures is affected by the type of dilator used to treat newly diagnosed peptic strictures, we designed a prospective randomized trial to compare the results after Eder-Puestow or Medi-Tech balloon dilation. We entered 31 patients into the trial. We also prospectively followed up all 92 nonrandomized patients who underwent their first dilation for a benign stricture during the same period as the prospective randomized trial. The nonrandomized patients also underwent dilation with either the Eder-Puestow or the balloon technique at the discretion of the gastroenterologist performing the endoscopy. We found no statistically significant differences in the immediate or long-term results of the two methods among the randomized, nonrandomized, and overall combined groups. All but 1 of the 123 patients had immediate relief of dysphagia. Within each group of patients, the probability of remaining free of dysphagia 1 year after the initial dilation was approximately 20%, and the probability of not requiring a second dilation was approximately 65% with either technique. Major (esophageal rupture) and minor (bleeding or chest pain) complications occurred in 1% and 5% of the patients and 0.4% and 3% of the total dilation procedures, respectively. The esophageal rupture and four of six minor complications occurred after repeated dilations. Five of the six minor complications occurred with use of the Eder-Puestow dilators. We conclude that Eder-Puestow and balloon dilations of benign esophageal strictures are associated with similar outcomes, but repeated dilations and the Eder-Puestow technique may be associated with an increased risk of complications.