The presence or degree of haemodynamic impairment due to occlusive cerebrovascular disease is often inferred from measurements of cerebral blood flow (CBF), cerebral blood volume (CBV), oxygen extraction fraction (OEF) and the cerebral rate for oxygen metabolism (CMRO2). However, the relationship of these variables, in particular CBV, to regional cerebral haemodynamics is not clearly established in humans with subacute or chronic disease. In the present study, we investigated the relationship of CBV to OEF, CBF and CMRO2, and to subsequent stroke risk in patients with unilateral carotid artery occlusion, in order to define better the associated haemodynamic and metabolic changes. We reviewed data from 81 patients with symptomatic carotid occlusion enrolled in a prospective study of haemodynamic factors and stroke risk. Measurements of CBV, CBF, OEF and CMRO2 were made on entry using PET. Patients were divided into groups by hemispheric ratios and absolute ipsilateral values of OEF and CBV, based on comparison with normal controls. Haemodynamic and metabolic values, risk factors and stroke risk were compared between groups. Based on hemispheric ratios, 45 patients had increased ipsilateral OEF; CBV was increased in 19 of these 45 patients. No differences in CBF, CMRO2 or clinical risk factors were found between these 19 patients and the remaining 26 patients with increased OEF and normal or reduced CBV. Thirteen ipsilateral strokes occurred during follow-up, and 10 of the 13 occurred in the 19 patients with increased OEF and CBV (log rank P < 0.0001). Thirty-two of the 68 patients with complete quantitative PET data had increased OEF by absolute ipsilateral values. CBV was increased in 20 of the 32 patients. No differences in CBF, CMRO2 or clinical risk factors were found between these 20 patients and the remaining 12 patients with increased OEF and normal CBV. Seven of the nine ipsilateral strokes that occurred in the 68 patients occurred in those 20 patients with increased OEF and increased CBV (log rank P = 0.003). The higher risk of ischaemic stroke in patients with increased OEF and CBV suggests that their degree of haemodynamic compromise is more severe than those with increased OEF and normal CBV. In patients with chronic carotid occlusion and increased OEF, increased CBV may indicate pronounced vasodilation due to exhausted autoregulatory vasodilation. The physiological explanation for the measurement of normal CBV in patients with increased OEF is less certain and may reflect preserved autoregulatory capacity.