The efficacy of ondansetron, a selective 5-HT3 receptor antagonist, in preventing postoperative nausea and vomiting in surgical patients was studied. Fifty women were randomized in a double-blind manner to receive either two 8 mg doses of intravenous ondansetron or two doses of placebo vehicle: the first given just before general anesthesia induction and the second 8 hours later. During the first 24 postoperative hours, the number of emetic episodes was recorded and the subjects rated their nausea on a scale from 0 to 10. Ondansetron-treated subjects had fewer emetic episodes (p less than 0.001) and lower subjective nausea scores (p less than 0.001). The number of complete responders (no emetic episodes and no rescue therapy) was 1 of 24 (4%) and 15 of 26 (58%) in the placebo and ondansetron groups, respectively (p less than 0.001). Ondansetron is clearly more effective than placebo in the prophylaxis of postoperative nausea and vomiting. The adverse event profile for ondansetron was similar to that of placebo.