This prospective, randomized, double-blind study was designed to compare the recovery characteristics of remifentanil and fentanyl in combination with propofol for direct current cardioversion. Patients undergoing elective cardioversion received either intravenous fentanyl 1 mu g/kg (n=33) or remifentanil 0.25 mu g/kg (n=30) and propofol was titrated to a Ramsay sedation score of 5 by slow intravenous injection. Heart rate, systolic, diastolic and mean blood pressures decreased significantly following sedation in both groups but did not show a significant difference between the groups. Time to answer a question (306 +/- 83 vs 383 +/- 131s, mean +/- SD, P=0.014) and time to sit up (412 +/- 90 vs 511 +/- 126s, P=0.002) were significantly shorter in the remifentanil group compared to the fentanyl group. Side-effects and patient discomfort were similar for both groups. Remifentanil can be used as a suitable supplement to propofol for direct current cardioversion and may provide a faster recovery profile than fentanyl.