There is a subgroup of patients with endoscopically confirmed non-ulcer dyspepsia who have no known cause for their symptoms, provisionally termed essential dyspepsia. The aim of this study was to determine prospectively the social consequences of essential dyspepsia. Patients with essential dyspepsia (n = 111) were followed up by telephone bimonthly, after an introductory personal interview, for a mean of 17 months. Data were gathered on symptoms, daily activities, family life, going out, work status, days lost from work, physician consultations, marital status, and major life events monthly. Stepwise regression analysis was undertaken, with days of upper abdominal pain each month as the response variable, to determine whether these social factors were associated with days of pain. None of the variables studied were of biological importance (r2 = 0.08), although increasing age, male sex, being unmarried and visiting a physician because of dyspepsia were statistically associated with increased days of abdominal pain (all, p less than 0.01). Major life event stress and social activities were not associated with the course of essential dyspepsia, and patients did not display excessive illness behaviour. The impact of essential dyspepsia on the lifestyle of its sufferers appears minor.