BACKGROUND: Evidence for the effectiveness of antacids, histamine-2 receptor antagonists, bismuth salts, sucralfate and prokinetic therapy in non-ulcer dyspepsia is conflicting. AIM: To conduct a systematic review evaluating these therapies in non-ulcer dyspepsia. METHODS: Electronic searches were performed using the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, Medline, EMBASE, Cinahl and SIGLE until September 2002. Dyspepsia outcomes were dichotomized into cured/improved vs. same/worse. RESULTS: Prokinetics [14 trials, 1053 patients; relative risk reduction (RRR), 48%; 95% confidence interval (95% CI), 27-63%] and histamine-2 receptor antagonists (11 trials, 2164 patients; RRR, 22%; 95% CI, 7-35%) were significantly more effective than placebo. Bismuth salts (RRR, 40%; 95% CI, - 3% to 65%) were superior to placebo, but this was of marginal statistical significance. Antacids and sucralfate were not statistically significantly superior to placebo. A funnel plot suggested that the prokinetic and histamine-2 receptor antagonist results could be due to publication bias. CONCLUSIONS: The meta-analyses suggest that histamine-2 receptor antagonists and prokinetics are superior to placebo. These data are difficult to interpret, however, as funnel plot asymmetry suggests that the magnitude of the effect could be due to publication bias or other heterogeneity-related issues.