Purpose: Although cytomegalovirus (CMV) esophagitis is an important complication of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, there has been little study specifically addressing the response to currently available antiviral therapy, relapse rate without maintenance therapy, and long-term outcome. Patients and methods: Over a 45-month period, 44 patients with CMV esophagitis established endoscopically and histopathologically were prospectively identified from among all human immunodeficiency virus (HlV)-infected patients undergoing endoscopy. Induction therapy consisted of intravenous ganciclovir at 10 mg/kg per day for approximately 14 days. Foscarnet was given at 60 mg/kg every 8 hours for nonresponders to ganciclovir. Results: Of these patients, 35 completed induction ganciclovir therapy, resulting in a complete response in 17 (49%) and a partial response in 10 (29%), yielding a 77% overall response rate. Seven of 8 nonresponders were subsequently treated with foscarnet, with a clinical response seen in 5 patients. In the 18 eventual complete responders to ganciclovir or foscarnet followed up without maintenance therapy, 7 (39%) relapsed at a median of 4 months (range 2 to 18 months). In all cases, relapse was manifested by recurrent odynophagia. Reinduction ganciclovir therapy yielded a complete response in 1 patient and a partial response in 2, and induction foscarnet treatment resulted in a complete response in the other treated patients. During long-term followup, 1 complete responder developed CMV colitis with concurrent retinitis, and 4 other patients developed retinitis. The median survival after diagnosis was 8.2 months, although survival for greater than 1 year was seen in 4 patients. No patient died as a direct result of esophageal disease, although ulcer-related bleeding may have contributed to death in 2 patients with endstage liver diseases and hepatic encephalopathy. Conclusions: CMV esophagitis has a favorable response te induction ganciclovir therapy, and a long-term remission may occur after induction therapy alone. Despite the favorable response to ganciclovir therapy, the long-term survival is poor, reflecting the severe immunodeficiency of these patients. © 1995.