Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) ranges from episodic symptomatic reflux without oesophagitis to severe oesophageal mucosal damage, such as Barrett's metaplasia or peptic stricture. The multifactorial pathogenesis of GORD prevents medical cure of the disease. GORD is a chronic disease with a high tendency to relapse, requiring a long term treatment strategy in practically all patients. Complete healing of all mucosal lesions is not necessarily the aim of treatment in all patients. In milder forms of reflux disease, symptom relief is the most important goal. Many patients with mild GORD do well on symptomatic self-care with antacids and/or alginate. In addition, lifestyle changes should be advised to all patients: these improve symptoms and enhance the efficacy of therapy. In the acute treatment of GORD the prokinetic drug cisapride has been shown to be effective in relieving symptoms and healing grade I to II oesophagitis. Cisapride decreases symptomatic and endoscopic relapse in patients with mild GORD. Histamine H2-receptor antagonists are effective in relieving reflux symptoms in about 50% of patients, but with regard to healing, H2-antagonists appear to be mainly effective in grades I and II and not in higher grades of oesophagitis. Maintenance treatment with H2-antagonists is mainly symptomatically effective in patients with mild GORD. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) provide significantly higher healing rates of reflux oesophagitis than H2-antagonists, even in the more severe cases of oesophagitis and Barrett's ulcers. PPIs are also effective in patients with oesophagitis refractory to treatment with H2-antagonists. PPIs have become the drugs of first choice in healing of all patients with more severe forms of reflux oesophagitis, and increasingly also for patients with milder forms of oesophagitis, certainly those who fail to respond to other drugs. In maintenance treatment of GORD, PPIs are the most effective drugs, offering the possibility of keeping nearly all patients in remission with adjusted doses. Current patient data of up to 5 years indicate the safety of this strategy for this period, but the exact consequences of strong acid inhibition over a longer period still have to be clarified. At present, all but a few patients with GORD can be managed adequately by medical therapy.