The effect of CO2-containing water on foot skin blood flow (laser-Doppler flux) and transcutaneous oxygen partial pressure (tcpO2) was measured in 16 patients (15 men and 1 woman; mean age 58 [49-71] years) with peripheral arterial occlusive disease (stage II of Fontaine: bilateral occlusions of the superficial femoral arteries). After 30 minutes lying down and 10 minutes sitting up, one lower leg was immersed in fresh water, the other in CO2-containing water (1400 mg CO2/kg H2O), both at 34 degrees C for 20 minutes. On the next day the measurements were repeated changing sides. Skin blood flow of the dorsum of the foot and rhythmic flow oscillations (flux motion) increased threefold in the CO2 water-bath, after a latency period averaging 2 minutes, within 3 minutes from 1.1 to 3.9 relative units (P less than 0.005). Average tcpO2 increased during the bath in CO2 water by 9 mm Hg (P less than 0.005). There was no change in fresh water. The increase in cutaneous blood flow and oxygen partial pressure, which persisted throughout the period in CO2 water, is interpreted as an increase in microcirculation and can explain part of the effectiveness of this largely empirical treatment.