The objective of this study was to determine whether gastric secretion of acid and pepsin is different in the subset of esophagitis patients who also have Barrett's esophagus. Basal and stimulated gastric secretions were studied for 1 hr in the unstimulated state and 1 hr after pentagastrin 6 microg/kg subcutaneous injection. Because Barrett's patients are predominantly male, the 30 patients were matched with patients who had esophagitis, but not Barrett's, for sex (26 men, 4 women) and age as well as for background gastrointestinal disease (duodenal ulcer in 10, no ulcer disease in 17 and Zollinger-Ellison hypersecretors in 3). Patients with Barrett's weighed more than controls (P < 0.05). Acid and pepsin output in the basal and stimulated state were no different in Barrett's and their appropriately matched controls. Overnight fasting residue--volume, pH, acid and pepsin concentrations, and bile content--were also alike. The severity of esophagitis or prevalence of esophageal ulcer or stricture was not different between those with and without Barrett's and in neither was the grade of esophagitis related to acid or pepsin output. It is concluded that Barrett's esophagus patients do not have gastric secretions different from appropriately matched controls with esophagitis alone. When present, esophagitis due to reflux in Barrett's epithelium should be treated on its merits by appropriate reduction of acid exposure.