Surgical patients with limited cardiovascular reserve have much worse prognosis than patients with normal hearts. This review identifies 17 randomised controlled clinical trials that have investigated peri-operative therapy designed to increase tissue perfusion in surgical patients, many of whom have limited cardiovascular reserve. Although there are differences which make equating the trials complex, a total of 1974 patients have been enrolled in the studies and the odds ratio for reduction in mortality is 0.45 (95% confidence intervals 0.33-0.60). Further research needs to be undertaken in the identification of patients with limited cardiovascular reserve and for investigating proposed treatment strategies. Despite this, it appears that such patients have improved outcome if they are admitted to intensive care unit pre-operatively and have suitable therapy given to improve tissue oxygen delivery.