The authors report their experience with 43 patients treated for achalasia of the esophagus in a general hospital between 1971 and 1986. Patients were divided into two groups according to the type of surgery performed: group 1--29 patients treated by Heller myotomy, performed by nine general surgeons between 1971 and 1983; and group 2--14 patients treated by transthoracic Heller myotomy with the addition of a Belsey Mark-IV fundoplication. Dysphagia was reduced postoperatively in 82.6% of patients in group 1 and 92.8% of patients in group 2. Three patients in group 1 and one patient in group 2 had persistent dysphagia. Ten patients in group 1 had symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux (5 of them required a second antireflux procedure). In group 2, one patient had symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux, but was treated successfully medically. There was no difference in the degree of relief of dysphagia between the abdominal and thoracic approach, or in whether the operation was performed by a general surgeon without specific experience in the treatment of achalasia. The addition of a fundoplication to a Heller myotomy appeared to lessen the problem of postoperative gastroesophageal reflux. Since the Heller myotomy is technically difficult and may lead to obstruction of the poorly emptying esophagus the authors recommend that it be used selectively and only by the experienced esophageal surgeon.