A study was conducted on 100 middle-aged to elderly patients (n=52, healthy; n=48, suffering from either diabetes, hypertension, ischaemic heart disease or combination of these diseases) undergoing cataract extraction to assess the effects of laryngoscopy and tracheal intubation, anaesthesia and surgery, eye bandaging and tracheal extubation, saline (control), magnesium sulphate 40 mg kg−1, esmolol 4.0 mg kg−1, lignocaine 1.5 mg kg−1 and glyceryl trinitrate 7.5 μg kg−1 given i.v. at induction of anaesthesia on heart rate (HR), blood pressure (BP), rate-pressure product (RPP) and pressure-rate quotient (PRQ). Anaesthesia was standardized. Haemodynamic responses and requirements for atropine, ephedrine and labetalol to maintain HR and BP during surgery were similar inhealthy and diseased patients, and in the test drug groups. Differences produced by the test drugs were evident until 5 min following intubation. Esmolol prevented rises in HR and RPP. Glyceryl trinitrate prevented a rise in BP, but was associated with tachycardia and a fall in PRQ to < 1.0. Magnesium sulphate and lignocaine did not prevent responses to laryngoscopy and tracheal intubation, and were associated with rises in RPP. Application of the eye dressing and tracheal extubation at the end of surgery each caused significant increases in HR, BP and RPP in all groups.