The analgesic efficacy and incidence of maternal, fetal and neonatal side-effects of combined spinal epidural (CSE) and epidural (EPI) analgesia, using a mixture of bupivacaine 0.125%, epinephrine (1.25 micrograms.ml-1) and sufentanil (0.75 microgram.ml-1) for the relief of labor pain, were randomly and prospectively compared in 110 parturients. A 29 gauge Whitacre tip spinal needle was used to perforate the dura in CSE patients. Compared to EPI, CSE resulted in rapid (326 +/- 22 vs 766 +/- 79 sec, p < 0.05), excellent analgesia, using less bupivacaine (23.5 +/- 2.3 vs 33.9 +/- 2.9 mg, p < 0.05) and sufentanil (12.5 +/- 1.0 vs 16.5 +/- .7 micrograms, p < 0.05). A tendency to improved patient satisfaction in the CSE group was observed. The incidence of maternal or neonatal side effects was similar in both groups. No PDPH was observed. We conclude that CSE analgesia results in excellent pain relief during labor with immediate gratification as compared to epidural analgesia.