Nasogastric (NG) decompression after colorectal surgery is practiced commonly. Our aim was to determine whether routine NG decompression benefitted patients undergoing this type of surgery. Five hundred thirty-five patients were randomized prospectively to either NG decompression or no decompression. Stratification was by type of operation and patient age. Excluded were patients who had emergency surgery with peritonitis, extensive fibrous adhesions, enterotomies, previous pelvic irradiation, intra-abdominal infection, pancreatitis, chronic obstruction. prolonged operating times, or difficult endotracheal intubation. Two hundred seventy-four patients received NG decompression (Salem sump, Argyle Co., Division of Sherwood Medical, St. Louis, MO) and two hundred sixty-one did not. There were 33 protocol violations included in the 535 patients. Patients who were not decompressed experienced significantly more abdominal distention, nausea, and vomiting than did those patients who were. Moreover, 13% required subsequent NG decompression as opposed to a reinsertion rate of 5% for patients routinely decompressed. The mean length of hospitalization for both groups was 11 days. There were no significant differences in nasopharyngeal or gastric bleeding, inability to cough effectively, respiratory infections, wound disruptions, reoperation, and wound infection rates (5%) between the two groups. We conclude that even though there is an increase in the rate of minor symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and abdominal distention, routine nasgastric decompression is not warranted after elective colon and rectal surgery.