A method of investigating the cardiorespiratory responses to continuous positive airway presslre (CPAP) in infants with respiratory distress syndrome is described. All measurements were made immediately before and within five minutes of application or any change in level of CPAP. Ventilation was derived from a pneumotachograph and dynamic compliance calculated. We have also measured arterial pH, oxygen and carbon dioxide tensions, arterial blood pressure and central venous pressure. Arterial oxygen tension increased in association with a decrease in the alveolar-arterial oxygen gradient. No consistent changes occurred in pH or carbon dioxide tension. Heart rate and mean arterial blood pressure remained the same but the arterial pulse pressure narrowed and the increase in central venous pressure averaged 17% of the applied airway pressure. There were less variations in both tidal volumes and instantaneous respiratory rates with CPAP compared with spontaneous breathing without CPAP. The respiratory rate decreased, but there were no consistent changes in tidal volume, resulting in a lesser reduction of minute ventilation. Dynamic compliance decreased on CPAP. With correct use of CPAP, and improvement in oxygenation generally occurs without obvious adverse cardiorespiratory effects. CPAP must nevertheless be used cautiously and in conjunction with close monitoring; because when the appropriate pressures are exceeded, it is possible that both circulatory and ventilatory function might be severely compromised.