BACKGROUND: Sympathetic nervous hyperactivity presents in response to surgical stress has been implicated as an important component of postoperative ileus. Because desflurane induces sympathetic activation, the effects of desflurane and sevoflurane on the recovery of bowel function were compared. METHODS: Forty patients undergoing a laparoscopic appendectomy were randomly assigned to receive either sevoflurane (Group S, n = 20) or desflurane (Group D, n = 20). The anesthetic, operative, and postoperative pain managements were standardized. The CRP (C-reactive protein), total leukocyte count, and ratio of the neutrophil to leukocyte counts were measured preoperatively and 12 hours postoperatively. The mean arterial blood pressure (MABP), heart rate, and end-tidal anesthetic concentration were measured at 10-min intervals during the surgery. The degree of postoperative pain, 11-graded surgical difficulty score, time to the first passage of flatus and first oral intake of clear fluid, as well as the postoperative hospital stay were also evaluated. RESULTS: Finally, 16 and 17 subjects in Groups S and D were included the analyses. There were no significant differences in the MABP, heart rate, and end-tidal anesthetic concentration between the two groups. The clinical and laboratory parameters related to the severities of inflammation and surgical trauma were similar in both groups. There were no significant differences in the times to the first passage of flatus and first oral intake of clear fluid and the postoperative hospital stay between the two groups. CONCLUSIONS: Although desflurane induces sympathetic activation, unlike sevoflurane, it does not delay the return of bowel function following a laparoscopic appendectomy.