In this prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, the use of continuous subhypnotic propofol infusion as an antiemetic in fentanyl intravenous patient-controlled analgesia (i.v. PCA) was investigated during the first 24 h after surgery. One hundred female patients, ASA I-II, aged 20-71 yr, undergoing major gynaecological or orthopaedic surgery, were included. Either propofol 10 mg or placebo (1 ml of Intralipid) was given and one of the following five regimens was maintained for 24 h: propofol 5, 10, 15 or 20 microg kg(-1) min(-1) or Intralipid 1 ml h(-1) as a placebo. Fentanyl i.v. PCA was started in the postanaesthesia care unit for postoperative analgesia. Significantly more of the patients given propofol 15 and 20 microg kg(-1) min(-1) experienced no nausea or vomiting compared with those given placebo (65% and 70% versus 25%; P<0.05). Patients given propofol 20 microg kg(-1) min(-1) reported more sedation than those in the other groups 4 h after surgery (P<0.05).