The purpose of this study was to evaluate the prevalence, location, and duration of pneumoperitoneum in postoperative patients and to compare the sensitivities of CT and left lateral decubitus radiography in the detection of postoperative pneumoperitoneum. Twenty-seven CT scans and 27 abdominal radiographs with the patient in the left lateral decubitus position were obtained prospectively in 17 patients after uncomplicated abdominal surgery. Fifteen patients were examined 3 days after surgery and 12 were examined 6 days after surgery. The studies were evaluated in a blinded fashion for the presence, location, and volume of free air. The presence of air on the radiographs and the presence and quantity of air on the CT scans were correlated with each subject's surgical procedure, age, sex, and body habitus. Pneumoperitoneum was seen on 13 (87%) of 15 CT scans and eight (53%) of 15 radiographs obtained 3 days after surgery and on six (50%) of 12 CT scans and one (8%) of 12 radiographs obtained 6 days after surgery. The calculated volume of free air seen on the CT scans ranged from 0.3 to 5.8 ml. Sixty-two percent of collections by volume were located in the midline/parahepatic space, 22% in the pelvis, and 16% in the mesentery. Radiographs showed pneumoperitoneum in only nine (47%) of 19 examinations in which the corresponding CT scans showed free air. Findings on radiographs were false-negative in seven (87%) of eight obese patients in whom pneumoperitoneum was detected on CT scans. The prevalence of pneumoperitoneum in the postoperative period based on CT findings is greater than that previously reported. Small amounts of pneumoperitoneum frequently collect along the anterior abdominal wall in two preferential spaces, the pararectus and midrectus recesses. The results of this study show that CT is significantly more sensitive than plain radiography for detecting small amounts of free intraperitoneal air in postoperative patients. Radiography is particularly insensitive for imaging obese and heavy patients.