We have investigated the addition of adrenaline to pethidine for patient-controlled epidural analgesia after elective Caesarean section. In a randomised, double-blind study, patients received patient-controlled epidural analgesia for 24 h using pethidine 5 mg.ml-1 with adrenaline 5 micrograms.ml-1 (adrenaline group, n = 40) or pethidine 5 mg.ml-1 without adrenaline (plain group, n = 38). Visual analogue scale pain scores at rest and on coughing measured 2 h, 6 h and 24 h after surgery were similar between the two groups. There was a trend towards lower mean total consumption of pethidine in the adrenaline group (231.5 mg; SD 140.5 mg) compared with the plain group (289.5 mg; SD 139.5 mg; p = 0.071). Patients in the adrenaline group had higher visual analogue scale scores for nausea at 2 h and 24 h and higher scores for pruritus at 2 h compared with the plain group. Addition of adrenaline to pethidine for patient-controlled epidural analgesia does not appear to have significant clinical advantages.