We compared the efficacy of prophylactic ephedrine infusion over fluid preloading in prevention of maternal hypotension during spinal anaesthesia for Caesarean section. Forty-six women undergoing elective Caesarean section at term were allocated randomly to receive either intravenous fluid preloading with Hartmann's solution 20 ml.kg-1 (fluid group) or prophylactic intravenous ephedrine 0.25 mg.kg-1 (ephedrine group). Moderate hypotension was defined as > or = 20% reduction in systolic blood pressure and severe hypotension as > or = 30% reduction in systolic blood pressure. Maternal uterine circulation was measured using Doppler ultrasound in 11 parturients before and after spinal anaesthesia. There was a lower incidence of severe hypotension in the ephedrine group compared with the fluid group (35% vs. 65%, p = 0.04), although the incidence of moderate hypotension was similar. Mean umbilical venous pH was higher in the ephedrine group than in the fluid group (7.33 vs. 7.29, p = 0.02) and the number of patients shivering was lower in the ephedrine group (2 vs. 9, p = 0.02). No difference was found between pre- and postspinal uterine artery pulsatility indices in either group. We conclude that prophylactic ephedrine infusion alone is at least as good as fluid preload alone in combating the hypotension associated with spinal anaesthesia for Caesarean section.