Available information from 1980 to 1997 on angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor-induced angioedema and its underlying mechanisms are summarised and discussed. The incidence of angioedema is low (0.1 to 0.2%) but can be considered as a potentially life-threatening adverse effect of ACE inhibitor therapy. This adverse effect of ACE inhibitors, irrespective of the chemical structure, can occur early in treatment as well as after prolonged exposure for up to several years. The estimate incidence is quite underestimated. The actual incidence can be far higher because of poorly recognised presentation of angioedema as a consequence of its late onset in combination with usually long term therapy. Also, a spontaneous reporting bias can contribute to an actual higher incidence of this phenomenon. The incidence can be even higher (up to 3-fold) in certain risk groups, for instance Black Americans. Treatment includes immediate withdrawal of the ACE inhibitor and acute symptomatic supportive therapy followed by immediate (and long term) alternative therapy with other classes of drugs to manage hypertension and/or heart failure. Preclinical and clinical studies for the elucidation of the underlying mechanism(s) of ACE inhibitor-associated angioedema have not generated definite conclusions. It is suggested that immunological processes and several mediator systems (bradykinin, histamine, substance P and prostaglandins) are involved in the pathogenesis of angioedema. A great part of all reviewed reports suggest a relationship between ACE inhibitor-induced angioedema and increased levels of (tissue) bradykinin. However, no conclusive evidence of the role of bradykinin in angioedema has been found and an exclusive role of bradykinin seems unlikely. So far, no clear-cut evidence for an immune-mediated pathogenesis has been found. In addition, ACE gene polymorphism and some enzyme deficiencies are proposed to be involved in ACE inhibitor-induced angioedema. Progress in pharmacogenetic and molecular biological research should throw more light on a possible genetic component in the pathogenesis of ACE inhibitor-associated angioedema.