The effects of aortic stenosis (AS) on right ventricular function during cardiac surgery are not fully understood. Forty patients undergoing aortic valve replacement with either a systolic transvalvular gradient of less than 100 mm Hg (82.1 +/- 5.5 mm Hg; group 1, n = 20) or greater than 120 mm Hg (131.1 +/- 6.9 mm Hg, group 2, n = 20) were investigated with regard to right ventricular function in the perioperative period. Right ventricular ejection fraction (RVEF), right ventricular end-systolic volume (RVESV), and right ventricular end-diastolic volume (RVEDV) were measured by means of the thermodilution technique. Before cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB), RVEF was significantly lower in group 2 patients (34% +/- 6%) than in group 1 (45% +/- 5%). After CPB, RVEF increased significantly in group 2 (28% +/- 4% to 49% +/- 5%), and no further differences were noted between the groups. In the patients with a higher systolic transvalvular gradient, RVEDV and RVESV were lower at the start of surgery, but increased after opening the pericardium. Cardiac index was also lower in these patients. Pericardiotomy resulted in a decrease in right ventricular end-systolic pressure (RVESP) only in the patients of group 2. In these patients more epinephrine was necessary to maintain stable hemodynamics during the post-bypass period. It is concluded that patients with AS are at risk of reduced right ventricular function when the systolic transvalvular pressure gradient is more than 120 mmHg. Knowledge of the complex interaction between the two sides of the heart may enable anesthesiologists to optimize management during the perioperative period.