In a randomized, double-blind study, the antiemetic efficacy of a single bolus of tropisetron 5 mg (group T, 37 patients), ondansetron 4 mg (group O, 39 patients) or saline (group C, 45 patients) given at induction was compared in a homogeneous group of 121 patients undergoing gynaecological laparotomy and receiving postoperative patient-controlled intravenous morphine for 24 to 48 hours. Fewer group T and group O patients developed severe nausea compared to group C (P < 0.01, log rank test in Kaplan-Meier analysis). Group T patients also had lower nausea scores than group O at 8 to 16h (P < 0.05). The overall incidences of severe nausea in groups T, O, and C were 5.4%, 17.9%, and 44.4% respectively (P < 0.001, group T vs group C; P < 0.05 group O vs group C). In conclusion, the 5-hydroxytryptamine 3 receptor antagonists tropisetron and ondansetron were superior to placebo in preventing PONV.