OBJECTIVE: The authors aim to substantiate, with objective arguments, potential advantages of laparoscopic versus open antireflux surgery in the light of the recent crude experience of the Louvain Medical School Hospital. METHODS: Seventy-two consecutive patients with disabling gastroesophageal reflux disease ([GERD], n = 56), symptomatic hiatal hernia without GERD (n = 5), or unsatisfactory outcome after unsuccessful antireflux procedure (n = 11) were operated on by laparotomy (n = 28), laparoscopy (n = 39), or thoracotomy (n = 5). The antireflux procedure was a subdiaphragmatic Nissen fundoplication (n = 60), an intrathoracic Nissen fundoplication (short esophagus, n = 3), a subdiaphragmatic 240 degrees fundoplication (severe motility disorders, n = 3), a Lortat-Jacob repair (hiatal hernia without GERD, n = 5), and a duodenal diversion (delayed gastric emptying, n = 1). RESULTS: Major postoperative morbidity included two pulmonary embolisms (one laparoscopy patient and one laparotomy patient), and one hemothorax (one thoracotomy patient). Mean hospital stay was 6.4 days for laparoscopy, 7.8 days for laparotomy, and 12.5 days for thoracotomy. Postoperative morphine consumption (patient-controlled analgesia) averaged 47 mg/48 hrs (laparoscopy) versus 46 mg/48 hrs (laparotomy with primary antireflux surgery) (p > 0.05). Although 93% of the laparoscopy patients returned to work within 3 weeks after surgery, 92% of the laparotomy and thoracotomy patients resumed their activity after more than 6 weeks. At follow-up, 87.5% of the patients were asymptomatic or had inconsequential symptoms, 9.8% had disabling side effects, and 2.7% had persistent or recurring esophageal symptoms. There were four parietal herniations, i.e., one incisional hernia and one recurrence of a repaired umbilical hernia in the laparotomy group, and two herniations of the wrap into the chest--probably related to a premature return to manual work--in the laparoscopy group. Three laparoscopy patients were dissatisfied with the esthetics of their scars. Lower esophageal sphincter pressure and esophageal acid exposure in the laparoscopy patients who were investigated were normal in 100% and 95%, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Laparoscopy is a good approach for achieving successful antireflux surgery in selected cases. However, its fails to substantially reduce postoperative complication rate and discomfort, duration of the hospital stay, and the risk of esthetic sequela. Early return to work is questionable for manual workers. The subdiaphragmatic Nissen fundoplication is not an all-purpose antireflux procedure.