OBJECTIVES: The prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux symptoms (GERS) in the population is high; however, data on long-term follow-up and incidence of GERS in the population are sparse. This study describes the long-term natural history of GERS, the related health-care use, and quality of life in a population followed up for 5 years. METHODS: A total of 10,000 randomly selected inhabitants, 40-65 years old, received, as a part of a controlled trial of Helicobacter pylori screening and treatment (control group), a mailed questionnaire regarding demographic data, gastrointestinal symptoms (the Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale (GSRS)), and quality of life (the Short-Form 36-Item Health Survey (SF-36)) at inclusion and after 5 years. GERS was defined as a mean score > or =2 in the reflux dimension in the GSRS. Information on use of health-care resources was drawn from the questionnaires and registers. RESULTS: In all, 6,781 individuals answered the first questionnaire and 5-year symptom data were complete for 5,578 (82.3%) of them. The mean age at inclusion was 52.4 years, 48% were men. At inclusion, 22% reported GERS. During follow-up, symptoms resolved in 43%, of whom 10% received acid inhibitory treatment at 5-year follow-up. The incidence of GERS was 2.2% per year. Health-care use during follow-up was significantly higher in individuals with GERS at baseline than in individuals without GERS. Quality of life at 5-year follow-up was lower in individuals with GERS at inclusion than in individuals without GERS at inclusion. CONCLUSIONS: GERS are prevalent, long lasting, and associated with an impaired quality of life and substantial health-care use.