The effect of ketorolac, a parenterally administered, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, was examined in a rat model of postoperative ileus. Small intestinal transit was measured by calculating the geometric center (GC) of distribution of 51CrO4. Laparotomy significantly delayed transit (GC: 2.2 +/- 0.2 after laparotomy versus 5.6 +/- 0.5 for unoperated controls, p < 0.01). The administration of ketorolac (1 mg/kg) improved the GC to 5.2 +/- 0.2 (p < 0.01), indicating normal intestinal transit after surgery in ketorolac-treated animals. Small intestinal myoelectric activity was recorded in rats with implanted electrodes. Animals treated with saline 2 hours postoperatively did not show return of the migrating myoelectric complex (MMC) in 183 +/- 25 minutes. In contrast, rats receiving ketorolac postoperatively had return of MMC activity in 59 +/- 18 minutes (p < 0.01). Preoperative ketorolac treatment reduced the duration of MMC inhibition after surgery from 197 +/- 55 minutes to 13 +/- 5 minutes (p < 0.05) when compared with saline. In summary, ketorolac hastens the return of MMC activity when given postoperatively. When ketorolac is administered preoperatively, it completely prevents the delay in intestinal transit and the inhibition of myoelectric activity seen in postoperative ileus. We concluded that ketorolac may be of benefit in the prevention and treatment of postoperative ileus.