Diverticula of the thoracic esophagus are uncommon disorders. The indications for surgical intervention in asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic patients are unclear. Among 20 patients referred during a 20-year period, 6 were male and 14 female, with a median age of 65 years. Two had had previous diverticulectomies. Dysphagia was present in 9 (45%) and regurgitation in 11 (55%). Nine patients had severe nocturnal cough with symptoms of aspiration. In two of these nine and in three other patients (25%), pulmonary symptoms were the only manifestation of disease, with no or minimal esophageal symptoms. In one patient the diagnosis of the presence of bronchial asthma for several years was incorrect; one patient had massive aspiration before hernia repair, in one a bronchoesophageal fistula and lung abscess developed, and two had severe persistent cough. All patients had a diagnostic barium esophagogram and endoscopy. Operation was performed in 17 patients, whereas three others declined operation. There was one hospital death. Follow-up is complete on 17 of 19 patients until June 1991. All operative survivors but one are free of symptoms. Of three patients refusing operation, one died of aspiration pneumonia, another died of myocardial infarction, and one with severe dysphagia is living. Because of the prevalence of aspiration (45%) and the potential for life-threatening pulmonary complications in some patients (15%), we conclude that operative intervention should be undertaken in all patients with thoracic esophageal diverticula regardless of the presence or absence of symptoms.