Recovery from anesthesia might be compromised in obese patients. Because of its pharmacological properties, desflurane might allow rapid postoperative recovery for these patients. We compared postoperative recovery for 36 obese patients randomized to receive either desflurane, propofol, or isoflurane to maintain anesthesia during laparoscopic gastroplasties. Anesthesia was induced with propofol and succinylcholine IV and was maintained with rocuronium, alfentanil, inhaled nitrous oxide, and the study drug. Immediate recovery (i.e., times from the discontinuation of anesthesia to tracheal extubation, eye opening, and the ability to state one's name) was measured. At the time of postanesthesia care unit (PACU) admission, arterial saturation and the ability of patients to move were recorded. In the PACU, intermediate recovery was measured by using sedation and psychometric evaluations, 30, 60, and 120 min postoperatively. Data were compared between groups by using the Kruskal-Wallis and chi(2) tests. Results were reported as means +/- SD. P: < 0.05, compared with desflurane, was considered significant. Immediate recovery occurred faster, and was more consistent, after desflurane than after propofol or isoflurane (times to extubation were 6 +/- 1 min, 13 +/- 8 min [P: < 0.05, compared with desflurane], and 12 +/- 6 min [P: < 0.05, compared with desflurane], respectively). At PACU admission, SpO(2) values were significantly higher and patient mobility was significantly better after desflurane than after isoflurane or propofol. Sedation was significantly less pronounced with desflurane at 30 and 120 min postoperatively. In morbidly obese patients, postoperative immediate and intermediate recoveries are more rapid after desflurane than after propofol or isoflurane anesthesia. This advantage of desflurane persists at least for 2 h after surgery and is associated with both an improvement in patient mobility and a reduced incidence of postoperative desaturation. In morbidly obese patients, postoperative immediate and intermediate recoveries are more rapid and consistent after desflurane than after propofol or isoflurane anesthesia.