The hemodynamic effects of ventilation are complex but can be grouped under four clinically relevant concepts. First, spontaneous ventilation is exercise, and critically ill patients may not withstand the increased work of breathing. Initiation of mechanical ventilatory support will improve oxygen delivery to the remainder of the body by decreasing oxygen consumption. To the extent that mixed venous oxygen also increases, Pao(2) will increase without any improvement in gas exchange. Similarly, weaning from mechanical ventilatory support is a cardiovascular stress test. Patients who fail to wean also manifest cardiovascular insufficiency during the failed weaning attempts. Improving cardiovascular reserve or supplementing support with inotropic therapy may allow patients to wean from mechanical ventilation. Second, changes in lung volume alter autonomic tone and pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR), and at high lung volumes compress the heart in the cardiac fossa. Hyperinflation increases PVR and pulmonary artery pressure, impeding right ventricular ejection. Decreases in lung volume induce alveolar collapse and hypoxia, stimulating an increased pulmonary vasomotor tone by the process of hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction. Recruitment maneuvers, positive end-expiratory pressure, and continuous positive airway pressure may reverse hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction and reduce pulmonary artery pressure. Third, spontaneous inspiration and spontaneous inspiratory efforts decrease intrathoracic pressure (ITP). Since diaphragmatic descent increases intra-abdominal pressure, these combined effects cause right atrial pressure inside the thorax to decrease but venous pressure in the abdomen to increase, markedly increasing the pressure gradient for systemic venous return. Furthermore, the greater the decrease in ITP, the greater the increase in left ventricular (LV) afterload for a constant arterial pressure. Mechanical ventilation, by abolishing the negative swings in ITP, will selectively decrease LV afterload, as long as the increases in lung volume and ITP are small. Finally, positive-pressure ventilation increases ITP. Since diaphragmatic descent increases intra-abdominal pressure, the decrease in the pressure gradient for venous return is less than would otherwise occur if the only change were an increase in right atrial pressure. However, in hypovolemic states, positive-pressure ventilation can induce profound decreases in venous return. Increases in ITP decrease LV afterload and will augment LV ejection. In patients with hypervolemic heart failure, this afterload reducing effect can result in improved LV ejection, increased cardiac output, and reduced myocardial oxygen demand.