OBJECTIVE: To determine the best treatment strategy for the management of patients presenting with symptoms consistent with uncomplicated heartburn. METHODS: We performed a cost-utility analysis of 4 alternatives: empirical proton pump inhibitor, empirical histamine2-receptor antagonist, and diagnostic strategies consisting of either esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) or an upper gastrointestinal series before treatment. The time horizon of the model was 1 year. The base case analysis assumed a cohort of otherwise healthy 45-year-old individuals in a primary care practice. MAIN RESULTS: Empirical treatment with a proton pump inhibitor was projected to provide the greatest quality-adjusted survival for the cohort. Empirical treatment with a histamine2 receptor antagonist was projected to be the least costly of the alternatives. The marginal cost-effectiveness of using a proton pump inhibitor over a histamine2-receptor antagonist was approximately $10.400 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY) gained in the base case analysis and was less than $50,000 per QALY as long as the utility for heartburn was less than 0.95. Both diagnostic strategies were dominated by proton pump inhibitor alternative. CONCLUSIONS: Empirical treatment seems to be the optimal initial management strategy for patients with heartburn, but the choice between a proton pump inhibitor or histamine2-receptor antagonist depends on the impact of heartburn on quality of life.