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Volatile anesthetics protect the myocardium during coronary surgery. This study hypothesized that the use of a volatile agent in the anesthetic regimen would be associated with a shorter intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital length of stay (LOS), compared with a total intravenous anesthetic regimen.Elective coronary surgery patients were randomly assigned to receive propofol (n = 80), midazolam (n = 80), sevoflurane (n = 80), or desflurane (n = 80) as part of a remifentanil-based anesthetic regimen. Multiple logistic regression analysis was used to identify the independent variables associated with a prolonged ICU LOS.Patient characteristics were similar in all groups. ICU and hospital LOS were lower in the sevoflurane and desflurane groups (P < 0.01). The number of patients who needed a prolonged ICU stay (> 48 h) was also significantly lower (propofol: n = 31; midazolam: n = 34; sevoflurane: n = 10; desflurane: n = 15; P < 0.01). Occurrence of atrial fibrillation, a postoperative troponin I concentration greater than 4 ng/ml, and the need for prolonged inotropic support (> 12 h) were identified as the significant risk factors for prolonged ICU LOS. Postoperative troponin I concentrations and need for prolonged inotropic support were lower in the sevoflurane and desflurane group (P < 0.01). Postoperative cardiac function was also better preserved with the volatile anesthetics. The incidence of other postoperative complications was similar in all groups.The use of sevoflurane and desflurane resulted in a shorter ICU and hospital LOS. This seemed to be related to a better preservation of early postoperative myocardial function.