In this retrospective study, data of 2,435 patients who received fentanyl and ropivacaine-based patient-controlled epidural analgesia (PCEA) for pain relief after elective surgery under general or spinal anesthesia were reviewed. Differences in postoperative pain, incidence of patient-controlled analgesia (PCA)-related adverse effects, and risk factors for the need for rescue analgesics for 48 hours postsurgery in young (age 20–39 years) and elderly (age ≥70 years) patients were evaluated. Although there were no significant differences in postoperative pain intensity between the two groups until 6 hours postsurgery, younger patients experienced greater postoperative pain intensity compared with older patients 6–48 hours postsurgery. While younger patients exhibited greater incidence of numbness, motor weakness, and discontinuation of PCA postsurgery, elderly patients exhibited greater incidence of hypotension, nausea/vomiting, rescue analgesia, and antiemetic administration. Upon multivariate analysis, low fentanyl dosage and history of smoking were found to be associated with an increased need for rescue analgesia among younger patients, while physical status classification III/IV and thoracic surgery were associated with a decreased need for rescue analgesia among the elderly. Discontinuation of PCA was more frequent among younger patients than the elderly (18.5% vs 13.5%, P=0.001). Reasons for discontinuation of PCA among young and elderly patients, respectively, were nausea and vomiting (6.8% vs 26.6%), numbness or motor weakness (67.8% vs 11.5%), urinary retention (7.4% vs 8.7%), dizziness (2.2% vs 5.2%), and hypotension (3.1% vs 20.3%). In conclusion, PCEA was more frequently associated with numbness, motor weakness, and discontinuation of PCA in younger patients and with hypotension, nausea/vomiting, and a greater need for rescue analgesics/antiemetics among elderly patients. Therefore, in order to minimize the adverse effects of PCEA and enhance pain relief, different PCEA regimens and administration/prevention strategies should be considered for young and elderly patients.