Genetic polymorphisms result in absent enzyme activity of CYP2D6 (poor metabolizers, PM) in about 10% of the Caucasian population. This study investigates whether the PM genotype has an impact on the response to tramadol analgesia in postoperative patients. A prospective study design was used and 300 patients recovering from abdominal surgery were enrolled. After titration of an individual loading dose, patients could self-administer 1 ml bolus doses of the drug combination tramadol 20 mg/ml, dipyrone 200 mg/ml and metoclopramide 0.4 mg/ml via patient-controlled analgesia (PCA). Patients' genotype was analyzed considering the most prevalent PM associated CYP2D6 mutations using a real-time PCR and hybridization based genotyping method. Demographic data, surgery related variables, pain scores, analgesic consumption and need for rescue medication were compared between extensive metabolizers (EM) and PM. The primary outcome criterion 'response' was defined as responder or non-responder status by the need for rescue medication and patients' satisfaction at the final interview. Demographic and surgery related data were comparable between EM (n=241) and PM (n=30). The percentage of non-responders was significantly higher in the PM group (46.7%) compared with the EM group (21.6%; p=0.005). Tramadol loading dose amounted to 108.2+/-56.9 and 144.7+/-22.6 mg (p<0.001) in EM and PM, respectively. More patients displaying the PM genotype needed rescue medication in the recovery room and during PCA period than patients with at least one wild type allele (21.6 versus 43.3%, p=0.02). PM for CYP2D6 showed a lower response rate to postoperative tramadol analgesia than EM. Therefore, CYP2D6 genotype has an impact on analgesia with tramadol. Pharmacogenetics may explain some of the varying response to pain medication in postoperative patients.